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Wed 4th Jun 2014 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

ALMR launches jobs and growth manifesto for licensed hospitality: Coinciding with the state opening of Parliament, the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) has published its 2014 Manifesto to promote jobs and growth in licensed hospitality in the UK. The Manifesto will be sent to all MPs, newly elected local councillors and prospective candidates and police commissioners with the aim of encouraging support for the sector. The Manifesto identifies three top public policy priorities in 2014 that would make an immediate impact on the sector’s ability to drive job creation and growth in local economies: extending the new requirement on regulators to prioritise economic growth to planning and licensing decisions, with appeal to the Local Government Ombudsman; removing competitive disadvantages in the tax and regulatory regime which favour supermarkets at the expense of pubs; and encouraging responsible consumption in a supervised environment through the alcohol strategy. The ALMR’s strategic affairs director, Kate Nicholls, said: “Licensed hospitality is a key economic sector, one which created one in eight of all new jobs over the past two years, but there is more which the government can do to stimulate this. Pubs and bars face inconsistencies and demands which hamper their ability to grow and boost their local economies. The ALMR Manifesto provides clear information on the national scale and local importance of our industry for policy-makers and guidance on how we can encourage further growth, reduce regulatory burdens and free up our small businesses to do more.” The ALMR will also be encouraging members to write to their local MPs to bring the Manifesto to their attention and promote licensed hospitality in each and every constituency in the run up to the general election. Nicholls said: “Over the course of this parliament, we have worked hard collectively to change the perception and attitude of politicians to this vital, vibrant and diverse industry – both nationally and locally. With less than one year away from the general election, it is vital that politicians appreciate what makes this industry tick. We are creating jobs, stimulating economies and delivering growth in the heart of local communities up and down the land. The ALMR Manifesto is the springboard to continuing this great work and ensuring we can operate within a free, fair and flexible market.”
   

Industry News:

Deputy Prime Minister – landlords have struggled for too long: Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has welcomed plans to introduce statutory regulation of pub companies owning more than 500 pubs. He said: “British pubs are often the centre of our community, a place where we meet friends, watch sport and enjoy a Sunday roast – they are a national treasure and the envy of the world. They also contribute billions to our economy every year. But for too long, landlords who are tied to larger pub companies have struggled to make ends meet – over half earning less than the minimum wage. The self regulatory approach hasn’t worked, so these new rules will give fairer treatment for landlords so that they can keep your local pub going strong.”   
 
Heineken – we support the introduction of an adjudicator: Heineken, which owns the 1,200-strong Star Pubs & Bars business, has voiced support for the government’s plan to introduce a statutory code of practice and an adjudicator. David Forde, managing director of Heineken, said: “The pub is a historic and important part of British life, and as a brewer and pub owner Heineken is a passionate supporter of the great British pub. The beer tie offers low-cost entry to the pub business for many tenants who couldn’t otherwise afford to buy their own pub and we are pleased the government has recognised this. As a business, we are constantly striving to strengthen our partnership with our tenants, therefore we support the introduction of an adjudicator to ensure high standards across the whole industry.”
   
Geof Collyer – statutory regulation should resolve uncertainty: Deutsche Bank analyst Geof Collyer has welcomed the proposed statutory regulation of pub companies, saying it resolves uncertainty dating back to 2003. He said: “We see this as being good news in the long run for the likes of Enterprise Inns (100% of ebitda from T&L pubs), Marston’s (c.50%), Greene King (<20%) as this should bring the regulatory and back bench committee investigations dating back to 2003 to an eventual close. Assuming that the proposals make the legislative calendar, we see this as a better outcome – having the uncertainty resolved now – rather than having the review hang over into the next Parliament. We would point out that Enterprise Inns has reset 94% of its rents over the past five years, so we see few issues on demanding a review. The option to remove gaming machines from the tie has been in the ETI agreements for quite a few years. A new industry ombudsman will replace the relatively new industry voluntary structures. It will be interesting to see whether the new structure will result in quicker settlements than the Pubs Independent Rent Review Scheme (PIRRS) or the Pubs Independent Conciliation and Arbitration Service (PICAS). Of the last 2,586 rent reviews conducted by ETI, only 1.3% went to arbitration. This number may go up a bit, but we still don’t see this as a meaningful point.”   

Liberis joins funding portal: The sector business cash advance provider Liberis has become the first revenue-based funder to join the rapidly expanding finance portal alternativebusinessfunding.co.uk, which aims to support SMEs requiring non-bank funding solutions. Liberis’ inclusion foreshadows a widely speculated announcement in the Queen’s speech today (4 June) which could compel banks to refer SMEs they have rejected for loans to alternative funding options. Liberis is a significant addition to the funding portal, broadening the range of funding options on offer, especially for micro (0-9 employees) and small businesses that are often turned down for bank funding. Worryingly for SMEs, OnePoll research, commissioned by Liberis and launched today, shows that almost a third of micro businesses (32%) have been turned down for bank funding. As a result, almost two thirds (60%) had cashflow problems or missed a business opportunity. The research also shows micro businesses (62%) are less likely to seek alternative funding sources than their larger SME counterparts, mainly because they do not know where to look.   

Company News:

Benugo reports turnover and profits surge: Benugo, which operates café delis and restaurants and is a contract caterer for high profile sites like the British Museum and the V&A, has reported turnover up 24% to £70.1m in the year to 27 December 2013 on the back of contract wins. Operating profit rose 47% to £4.9m. Profit before tax climbed to £5.12m from £3.15m the year before. The company said: “When we founded Benugo we had a vision of not just creating superb, natural food but something that was a real experience. What makes Benugo unique is that we combined the flexibility of a contract caterer with the consistency and commercial focus of a high street brand. Our plan is to improve and consolidate our presence on the high street. We would look to expand this area of the business, improve profitability and continue to develop the Benugo brand in response to customer needs and feedback.”   

Frederic Robinson reports increase in operating profit: The Stockport-based brewer and retailer Frederic Robinson has reported turnover by around £2.5m to £58.62m in 2013. Operating profit rose to £2.26m from £1.5m the year before. Pre-tax profit dipped by £170,000 to £3.12m after a smaller profit from the sale of pubs, £821,000, down from £1.69m the year before. Production of its own beers increased by 20%, led by Trooper: 3.5 million pints were sold in the last seven months of 2013 and 77,000 barrels were packaged. Nineteen under-performing pubs were sold for a total of £2.3m. Spending on repairs and capital in 2013 hit £6m, involving more than 30 pubs. Chairman Peter Robinson said: “Our part of the country has been hit harder than most, but the green shoots beginning to appear and I am confident we are in a good position to take advantage of the upturn.”   

Tom Kerridge unveils plans for a second pub in Marlow: Tom Kerridge, who holds two Michelin stars at his Greene King tenancy, The Hand and Flowers in Marlow, has revealed plans to add a second pub in the town. Tom and his wife Beth plan to take over The Coach and Horses pub on the same road at The Hand and Flowers. The couple has applied to Wycombe District Council for planning permission to overhaul the Grade II listed building to include a rear extension and a completely new kitchen featuring large cold and dry store areas. Proposals also include refitting the pub, currently housing a Chinese restaurant, to include a new bar, flooring, decoration and seating, with the toilet set-up also reconfigured.
   
Michelin-starred chef takes over Enterprise Inns site: Michelin-starred chef Dominic Chapman has signed a 20-year lease to take over an Enterprise Inns pub, The Beehive at White Waltham, near Maidenhead. Chapman won a Michelin star at The Royal Oak at Paley Street, Berkshire, which is a Fuller’s tenancy operated by Michael Parkinson’s son Nick. The Beehive has previously been run for 15 years by leaseholders Guy and Jenny Martin, who are now retiring. Chapman has set up a new company, Coucha, to run the pub. David Coubrough, the founder of the hospitality recruitment consultancy Portfolio International, will chair Coucha. Chapman’s wife Helena is a partner in the new business and his sister-in-law Alicia Corlett, who has worked for Rowley Leigh and Mark Hix in London, is the manager. “The Beehive will be a food-run operation which will maintain the integrity of a pub, be very relaxed and offer good value,” Chapman said.   

Analysts positive over M&B purchase of Orchid estate: Since announcing last week that it was in exclusive negotiations to buy pubs from Orchid Group, Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) has received ‘Buy’ ratings from both Citigroup and Numis. Citigroup went further, adding the FTSE 250 pub operator to its “Key Buy List”. M&B is thought to want to buy around 170 of Orchid’s 225 pubs, with the remainder likely to go into administration with Ernst & Young.   
 
Jurassic Coast Coffee named Costa’s top franchise for second year: Jurassic Coast Coffee has been named as Costa Coffee’s top UK franchise for the second year running. The company won the award after being judged on aspects such as sales growth, customer service, staff loyalty and brand standards in every store. Managing director James Witty said: “There are 40 franchise businesses in the UK, so for Jurassic Coast Coffee to be awarded the number one position again in 2013-14 by Costa Coffee is an honour and once again a privilege. The management teams in all our stores have focused relentlessly on customer service and coffee quality during 2013–14 and this has certainly paid dividends. We would now like to thank all our customers throughout Devon and Dorset for their loyalty and valuable feedback over the last 12 months.” Jurassic Coast Coffee has stores in Sidmouth, Honiton, Lyme Regis, Tiverton and Teignmouth.   
 
Isle of Wight nightclub set to re-open: A nightclub on the Isle of Wight looks set to re-open under new owners. Matthew Diffey, of Widget Productions, successfully applied to the Isle of Wight Council’s licensing sub-committee for a premises licence for the nightspot in Newport town centre, previously known as The Studio and more recently, The Loft. The application for the venue, Dr Beatwigs, at 9 Bowling Green Lane, was granted with conditions requested by police and environmental health. The nightclub and live music venue, close to Newport bus station, was granted opening hours of 9am to 2am Monday to Sunday, with no re-admittance after 1am.   
 
Prezzo submits new application for Fleet site: Prezzo has submitted a new application to open a restaurant in Fleet town centre, Hampshire. The company is seeking a change of use to enable it to sell food and drink from the former retail premises of Babyland and Vickery estate agents at 204 and 206 Fleet Road. It recently withdrew an application before it could be determined by Hart Council and has submitted a new one, proposing minor changes. Some local residents have welcomed the prospect that the empty units will be filled but others have said the town does not need another pizza restaurant.   
 
New US brand opens in Barking: Essex businessman Nabil Ditta has opened a new brand, the New York Subs and Shakes restaurant, in Longbridge Road, Barking, Essex. The US-themed venue, next to Barking Station, includes references to the sitcom Happy Days, vintage cars and a flashing Statue of Liberty sign. The venue, which opens to the public on Saturday, has been home to an estate agent for the past few years.   
 
Stonegate chairman Ian Payne to deliver ‘passport’ on a Harley Davidson: Stonegate Pub Company is raising money for the children’s charity Variety through an event called Britain’s Biggest Pub Tour (BBPT). The tour features a BBPT passport journey throughout the UK involving 620 Stonegate pubs. The company has organised fund-raising events across its pubs. On Friday the tour arrives in Hereford, and company chairman Ian Payne will be transporting the passport on a Harley Davidson motorbike.   

Five Guys opens Uxbridge site: Better burger brand Five Guys has opened in Uxbridge, Middlesex, occupying the former Baroosh site, whose freehold is still owned by Hertford brewer McMullen. Social media was awash with people looking forward to trying it out, with some calling for free burgers for anyone who works in Uxbridge and others even saying the opening warranted a sick day. Five Guys has taken a 15-year FRI lease on the site. McMullen’s retail director, Heydon Mizon, said at the time of Baroosh’s closure in January: “The bar has traded profitably since its purchase 12 years ago but the property is not meeting its potential and it is felt that a different concept is better suited to the local market.”   
 
McDonald’s renews Box TV partnership: McDonald’s has renewed its partnership with Box TV for a second year and will launch a McFlurry-branded music entertainment show on 4Music called Summer Scoop. Helen Higgins, the marketing manager at McDonald’s UK, said: “The Summer Scoop delivers fresh, fun content that’s in-step with our target audience and showcases McFlurry as the number one choice for that summer treat.”   
 
Asha’s to open second UK restaurant in Manchester: The Indian restaurant group Asha’s, named for the Bollywood singing superstar Asha Bhosle, is to open its second outlet in the UK in Peter Street, Manchester. Asha opened her first restaurant in Dubai in 2002. The brand has spread across the Middle East, with another seven outlets, but the only UK branch currently is in Birmingham. The Manchester Asha’s will cover 6,000 sq ft over two floors in a site formerly occupied by a bar called Baby Grand. The upper ground floor will be a 100-cover restaurant while the lower ground floor will have a cocktail bar for 70 and a private dining space. Peter Warden, a former Manchester-based restaurant entrepreneur who has spent three years working with the Asha’s brand, opening venues across the Middle East, said: “For the Manchester venue we have taken a major leap forward in the evolution of the brand.” The Guinness Book of World Records acknowledged Asha in 2011 as the most recorded artist in music history, with more than 11,000 songs in 20 Indian languages heard in more than 1,000 Bollywood movies.   

Stonegate to convert third Living Room to Slug & Lettuce: Stonegate Pub Company is to convert a third site from the Living Room estate acquired last year to its Slug & Lettuce brand. The latest conversion is set to open at Explore Lane, near Bristol Harbourside, after an investment of £122,000, which will create 20 new jobs. The opening will be the second Slug & Lettuce for Bristol – the existing venue is situated at St Nicholas Street and has recently reopened after a refurbishment. This is the third Living Room conversion to a Slug & Lettuce and follows the first conversion at London’s Tower Bridge in November 2013 and a second site recently re-opened at Oxford Castle.   

Ambrette to open third site, plans fourth: Ambrette, headed by TV chef Dev Biswal, is to open a third site in Canterbury, called The Ambrette @ Canterbury. The TV chef, who champions a “curry-free menu” of south Indian-style dishes, has secured the site of the former Beer Cart Arms. Refurbishment works are under way, ahead of an opening expected sometime during July. The two existing Ambrette restaurants are recommended by all the leading guides including Michelin, AA, Waitrose Good Food and Harden’s. “Canterbury is a fantastic historic town with a great food heritage and perfect demographics for my style of cooking,” Biswal said. “We have over 2,000 people on our customer database with a Canterbury postcode who have already made the trip to the restaurants in Margate or Rye.” The Canterbury restaurant will also serve as a training and development site, with centralised production of marinades and sauces, to ensure consistently high standards across the group as operations expand. Biswal hopes to open a fourth restaurant, somewhere between Canterbury and Margate specialising in seafood and vegetarian cooking, with the emphasis on gluten and allergen-free foods. He has also set his sights on locations in Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells, Brighton and London, as part of his planned expansion. Biswal trained at the Dubai Sheraton, before moving to London in 2003, aged 26, for spells at Mangoes and Eriki.   

Instrinsic instructed to find restaurant operator for flagship Wimbledon Village site: Intrinsic Property has been instructed by Vanfame Ltd to market an exclusive restaurant opportunity in its newly completed development in Wimbledon Village, South London. The site of the former King of Denmark public house at 85 Ridgway, Wimbledon, has been redeveloped with a new building made up of a space for a new bar/restaurant on the ground and lower ground floors, with nine new loft-style apartments above. The ground and lower ground floor have a total of 4,600 sq ft of open plan bar/restaurant space with provision for a central island bar. In addition to the internal space, there are courtyards to provide outside seating, offering in total up to 6,255 sq ft of space available for a restaurant operator. The property will be offered with the existing premises licence preserved. Intrinsic Property has been instructed to advise on finding a restaurant occupier for the accommodation and will be offering the premises on a new lease or on a virtual freehold, 125-year lease basis.   

InnBrighton nabs top London brewer for guest brews: InnBrighton has nabbed one of London’s top brewers, Derek Prentice, to be a guest brewer at its Laine’s brewery at the Aeronaut pub in Acton, West London. Prentice, who retired recently from the post of brewing manager at Fuller Smith & Turner in Chiswick, West London, joined Truman’s brewery in the East End of London at the age of 18, and later spent 17 years at Young’s brewery in Wandsworth. He is getting ready to take a “significant” position at a smaller brewery, but meanwhile he has been presiding over the brewing of Laine’s India Pale Ale, using the US-style IPA recipe of Nigel Dallas, who brews at another InnBrighton brewpub, the North Laine in Brighton. InnBrighton’s chief executive, Gavin George, said: “We are over the moon to have persuaded Derek to do a brew with us at the Aeronaut. When a West London brewing legend lends his skills and experience to making a beer, you know that the result will be something pretty special.” Prentice said: “I’m pleased to have the opportunity to do a brew at the Aeronaut. While my new project is in the planning stages, it has been great to keep my hand in.”    

Singer Inns creditors likely to lose more than £1.4m: Creditors of Singer Inns, the South West of England pub chain that collapsed in February, are likely to miss out on more than £1.4m, according to an administrators’ report. The company, founded in 2003, operated six pubs in Devon, Somerset and Cornwall, but paid what administrators Andrew Sheridan and Gareth Morris, of the insolvency practice FRP Advisory called “significant premiums” to lease some sites. The company reported a turnover of £3.2m in the year ending 31 March 2013, up by 11% on a year earlier. However, net profits fell by 30% to just £19,000. A report by the administrators said: “The group of pubs had a strong underlying operational performance with strong management at each location. However, the company had too much debt to service, having paid significant premiums for some of the leases and for the freehold pub, the Orchard Inn [Taunton], purchased at the peak of the property market. Ultimately, debt servicing coupled with the large HM Revenue & Customs arrears, meant the company ran out of cash.” Of the six pubs the company ran, Dean and Simone Singer the sole shareholders and directors of Singer Inns and Taverns have taken over the Kings Arms, Exeter, the Cherub Inn, Dartmouth and the Inn on the Shore, Torpoint, Cornwall themselves. NatWest, Singer Inns and Taverns’ secured creditor, was owed £730,000 from loans and overdraft facilities given to the company. The administrators estimated that the bank will suffer a shortfall of £343,00on this debt. Unsecured creditors are claiming £1.1m, but the administrators estimated they will only receive £19,000.   
 
Diageo folds its marketing innovation unit: Diageo is to close its specialist marketing innovation unit in a bid to give its brand teams control over discovering emerging digital platforms and testing new media strategies, Marketing Week has reported. The spirits company created the stand-alone department during its last restructure in 2011. Marketing Week said: “Diageo formed the team to accelerate its adoption of digital but now feels its best practice guidelines are developed enough to integrate the more experimental approach back into its global and local teams. Members of the ten-strong team have been redeployed to other parts of the business after several weeks of consultations.”   
 
Bettys defends its Fat Rascals: Bettys Tearooms has forced a Yorkshire rival to back down over the name of its scones. Just Desserts, a baker and patissier to the foodservice and hospitality sector based in Shipley, introduced its Fat Rascals premium scone three years ago. However, Bettys, the tearoom chain founded in 1919, which has six branches in Yorkshire, says it created the Bettys Fat Rascal scone three decades ago, and sent Just Desserts a legal letter telling it to stop using the Fat Rascals name. James O’Dwyer, managing director at Just Desserts, said: “When we received notification from Bettys to stop using the Fat Rascals name, our bakery team rose to the challenge and eventually came up with a new name – Yorkshire Scallywags – which we think is a fitting description. We have also changed the look of our scone so that it does not resemble the appearance of the Bettys product.” A Bettys spokesman said: “We created the recipe and look of the Bettys Fat Rascal three decades ago, and since then this plump, fruity and freshly baked scone has won a special place in the hearts of our customers. We’ve been advised to protect the Fat Rascal name for future generations of Bettys customers. It’s what any business – large or small – would do.”   
 
Former corporate banker buys cafe business: Time Food Services, which runs the 130-cover Time Cafebar at the Four Seasons Shopping Centre in Mansfield and the 100-cover Time Cafebar at Crystal Peaks Shopping Centre in Sheffield, has been acquired by a former Lloyds TSB corporate banker, Mike Rogers. Time Food Services was founded in 2009 as O’Briens and changed its name in 2011. The business, which was previously owned by Staffordshire businessman Wayne Fenton, has more than 20 staff and an £800,000 turnover. As well as the cafe-bar outlets, it also provides outside catering services for private functions. Rogers said: “Having worked in banking since I was 15, I decided I wanted to look for new challenges doing something totally different. Time Food Services will allow my family and I to take advantage of our skills and experience to grow a well-established and highly regarded brand. We’re planning to grow the business by expanding into new outlets and aim to have another one open in our first year’s trading.”   
 
Almost Famous reopens original restaurant after fire: Beautiful Drinks, the Manchester bar and restaurant operator, has reopened the original Almost Famous burger bar at 100 High Street in Manchester’s Northern Quarter almost a year after it was closed by a kitchen fire. Since the fire, Beautiful Drinks has opened new branches of Almost Famous in Liverpool and at the Great Northern Warehouse in Deansgate, Manchester. The refurbished High Street restaurant opened this week with a day of free food and drink on Sunday. Beautiful Drinks also runs the Home Sweet Home, Lust Luck Liquor Burn and Keko Moku outlets in Manchester.   

Greene King adds to Meet and Eat estate with Milton Keynes site: Greene King is spending “a six-figure sum” transforming the Eager Poet in Neath Hill, Milton Keynes into one of its Meet and Eat pubs. The brand, which now covers around 160 of the Suffolk-based brewer’s outlets, is designed to offer a “more comfortable and modern” venue with a wide selection of good-value pub food, suitable for the whole family, including daily deals on meals such as chicken fajitas and steak hot sizzlers and a roast on Sundays. Pub manager Michelle Brayshaw, who has been behind the bar for five years, said: “There is demand for more food than we are able to do at the moment and it is very exciting to know that in a few months we will have a brand new pub and a state of the art kitchen to work in. The plans to redecorate and add in new furniture are much more than a lick of paint and it is going to look really brilliant.” Jonathan Webster, managing director for Greene King Local Pubs, said: “Sport plays a big role at the Eager Poet so we have timed the refurbishment carefully to start work after the World Cup has finished, hopefully celebrating an England victory. Meet and Eat is a very popular brand and I am confident it is the right fit for this pub.”   

US pizza firm Sbarro emerges from Chapter 11 bankruptcy: The American pizza operator Sbarro has emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, nearly three months after filing a prepackaged plan to cut about 85% of the company’s outstanding debt. The company disclosed that it would move its headquarters from Melville, New York, to Columbus, Ohio, which would ultimately reduce costs and general and administrative expenses, as well as place the brand’s seat of operations closer to its fast-casual Pizza Cucinova concept, which has a handful of locations in Columbus.   

Tapas restaurant rescued by directors: The Sol Tapas restaurant in the centre of Darlington has been bought out of administration by a company set up by two of its former directors. Sol Tapas Ltd was placed into administration in April after it was hit by rising costs and the resignation of one of the restaurant’s three founders, and fell into arrears with a number of creditors. The company was set up in 2011 by David Storer, Zika Nada and Tarek Thoma. The Leeds-based firm Walsh Taylor was instructed to assist with the administration on 25 March, and Kate Breese was appointed as administrator to Sol Tapas two weeks later after Thoma, who had retained his 33% stake in the business, is understood to have refused to agree to wind up the company in March. However, the company’s assets have now been bought by AFX Catering, set up by Nada and Storer, after the administrator concluded that a going concern sale was not possible because of high ongoing trading costs. AFX paid £10,000 for the assets held by Sol Tapas. The amount owed to the unsecured creditors of Sol Tapas is £254,738, with more than £170,000 of that owed to the company’s director. The restaurant is continuing to trade as Sol Tapas.
   
Hawthorn Leisure buys 88 more pubs: Hawthorn Leisure, the pub company established to acquire and invest in tenanted pubs across the UK, has bought a portfolio of 88 tenanted and leased public houses from R&L. Hawthorn Leisure has also completed the acquisition of 275 public houses from Greene King. This acquisition was announced on 1 May 2014. Hawthorn Leisure’s strategy is to work in close partnership with its tenants, providing management support and capital investment to help them drive growth and maximise the potential of their pubs. Together, Hawthorn Leisure has now acquired a total of 363 tenanted and leased pubs, which are 98% freehold, including 201 in the Southeast, Midlands, East and West of England, 131 in Scotland, and 31 in other parts of the United Kingdom. Gerry Carroll, chief executive of Hawthorn Leisure, said: “Hawthorn Leisure’s strategy of supporting and investing in its tenants provides a fantastic opportunity for these pubs. Our experienced team is fully committed to working in close partnership with the tenants of both the R&L and Greene King pubs and we are delighted to welcome them all to Hawthorn Leisure.” Hawthorn Leisure is backed by Avenue Capital Group, May Capital and management. The terms of the R&L acquisition have not been disclosed.   

Restaurant Group plans Chiquito and Coast to Coast for site of fire-hit Red Hot Buffet: The Restaurant Group has applied to Northampton Council to build a Chiquito and a Coast to Coast restaurant on the site of the former Red Hot World Buffet in the town, which burned down in December. Chiquito is the UK’s largest Tex-Mex restaurant chain, with more than 70 sites and 100,000 customers each week. Coast to Coast, an American casual dining concept, has expanded from just one outlet in 2011 to 11. The Restaurant Group has announced plans to open between four and six further sites this year, with the brand in some locations sitting alongside its Frankie and Benny’s and Chiquito outlets. If approved, the Northampton plans could create 60 new jobs. A report by planners said the occupation of the Red Hot Buffet site by new restaurant operators would be “acceptable” as it would bring the site back into use. The restaurants would be open between 9am and 11pm and would include an outdoor terrace area. In February a planning application was submitted to Northampton Council for the remains of the Red Hot World Buffet building, in Sixfields, to be demolished, in order to make it safe. Red Hot World Buffet, owned by Luke Johnson’s Risk Capital Partners, decided against rebuilding the Northampton site because there was little time left on its lease.   

Tragus looks to shed 50 sites and sell Strada in restructure: Tragus, the owner of the Café Rouge and Strada chains, is preparing a financial restructuring that will reduce debt and off-load its tail. The restructure would see around 50 sites subject to potential closure. The company would be left with around 200 sites and debt reduce from £262m to £90m. The company plans to invest £110m in the business over the next four years. Tragus Group is looking to launch company voluntary arrangements (CVAs) that would enable it to restructure some of its rent obligations at Café Rouge and Bella Italia. It is also poised to launch a sale process for Strada, the premium Italian chain which operates 59 sites. A Tragus spokesman told Propel: “The heart of the matter is Tragus had a hugely overleveraged balance sheet which has stopped investment and innovation in the brands and the group has seen profit decline over the last five years caused by a clearly defined and significant non core tail. Having said that the brands remain well-loved by customers and remain very popular and profitable, the restructure is about creating the right platform and conditions for them to grow again. To this end early trials of a new Bella and Café Rouge format have proved to be very successful and it is the intention to aggressively refresh and expand both brands. The slimmed down group will be focused on investing and growing its two brands (Bella and Rouge) substantially over the next few years. The balance sheet will be exceptionally strong (2.5 x debt to Ebitda) and the business will have access to substantial funding to grow £110m capex over four years.” Tragus was formerly owned by Blackstone, the American private equity firm, but was taken over earlier this year by lenders led by Apollo Management. Its performance under its previous owners, Legal & General Ventures and ECI, were in contrast to Blackstone’s period of ownership, with both making substantial sums from their ownership of the business. Blackstone paid £267m for Tragus in December 2006, using about £167m of debt to fund the deal. Legal & General Ventures, had bought Tragus two years earlier for £90m from the private equity firm ECI, which had purchased it from Whitbread in 2002, for £25m. Tragus Group saw operating profits for the 53 weeks to 2 June 2013 fall 12.9% to £34.59m from £39.71m in the 52 weeks to 27 May 2012. The group recorded a loss of £33.72m for the year, up from £19.32m in 2012. Net debt rose to £324.58m from £314.97m the previous year. Turnover was up 3% to £294.82m from £286.27m in the 12 months to 27 May 2012.

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