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Mon 1st Sep 2014 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Mark Derry – ‘Brasserie Blanc will get better long-term returns from pubs’: Brasserie Blanc chief executive Mark Derry has told Propel that the company’s plan to open 20 White Brasserie Company pubs in three years is based on the firm belief that the company will earn better returns that can be achieved by expanding its 20-strong brasserie estate. The most recent Brasserie Blanc opening in Beaconsfield is the second best-performing site within the estate, confirming the strength of the core brand, which celebrated its 18th birthday last month. But the company has found that its first two pub openings, The King’s Head in Teddington, Middlesex and The Queen’s Head in Weybridge, Surrey, have grown like-for-like sales for four consecutive years. Its third pub opening, The Hare in Harrow Weald, Middlesex, has traded for five weeks and is ahead of budget. A fourth pub, The British Queen in Orpington, Kent, a Spirit leased pub that has seen a £1m co-investment, opens this week. Derry said: “We think premium pubs are a big opportunity right now. Competition is much more fierce in the restaurant sector. It’s very hard for a competitor to take away your business when you have established a premium pub. We are serving restaurant quality food in pubs, the same 100% fresh food as we serve in Brasserie Blanc. There are not many people doing it. Our pubs start with lower trading than the brasseries – but our two prototype pubs have seen four years of like-for-like sales growth and keep on growing. We think we will get better returns from pubs over the length of a lease. We are serving the same food at the same price point – and we haven’t had a single written complaint from a customer in two years. Customers are in different frame-of-mind when they visit pubs – expectations are so high in restaurants.” Derry said the company has learned lessons from its early pubs that have been applied successfully to its brasseries – the evolved Beaconsfield opening has adopted a more informal, laid-back pubby look for waiting staff, for example. The next opening is an Enterprise Inns pub, The Sun Inn at Chobham. Derry reports a lot of time has been spent forging a new kind of lease that has a turnover-related top-up element that allows Enterprise to benefit from food sales – a similar lease applies at the Spirit site. He said: “We want the tenanted pub companies to offer us their best sites. The tenanted pub companies have a new generation of enlightened staff working for them. For example, Nathan Wall, at Enterprise Inns, has driven the negotiations over the lease agreement at our next pub. Chris Welham, at Spirit leased, has done the same. In both cases, we’ve tried to emulate the kind of lease we have with a landlord like Land Securities.” The company is in negotiations over three more pub sites, which would bring its pub estate to eight sites by mid-2015. 

Industry News:

Portman Group – survey shows public link fall in alcohol-related crime to effective local partnerships: Members of the public and the police attribute falling rates of alcohol-related crime to better town centre management, better partnership working and a society becoming less tolerant to anti-social behaviour, according to a YouGov poll published today. According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales (ONS) all crimes involving alcohol are falling in every region across the country. Responding to the decline in alcohol-related crime, the British public most commonly cited better town centre management (40%), a society less tolerant of anti-social behaviour (38%) and more effective partnership working between police, local authorities, communities and businesses (31%) as reasons for the decline. Alcohol-related crime has declined by 21% in England and across all regions. Henry Ashworth, Portman Group chief executive, said: “This research confirms what those on the front line in combating alcohol harms have believed for years – that local partnerships are key to tackling crime and anti-social behaviour.”

Amber Taverns to open micro-brewery at 100th site: Amber Taverns, the community pub operator led by James Baer and Bryan Wardman, will recreate a modern take on the 19th century gin palace and unveil a micro-brewery at its 100th site, set to open in Bolton’s Churchgate. The company will convert former pub The Capitol into Hogarths, a ‘lavish bar styled on gin houses common in the Victorian era’. The bar, due to open in October, will have an in-house micro-brewery and a bespoke gin distilled for the pub, based on a recipe popular in the 18th century. Operations director for Amber Taverns Gary Roberts said the company’s 100th pub in Bolton will be named after the painter William Hogarth. He told The Bolton News: “Hogarth was a superb artist, satirist, and political commentator – and some elements of his work will run through the establishment. We are keen to promote a fantastic community pub spirit in a rather under-invested area of the town centre. We believe customers not only deserve fantastic surroundings to imbibe in their favourite tipple – we believe value-for-money is increasingly important. The micro-brewery will deliver exceptional session beers and innovative and challenging variations on popular varieties.”

Pubs ‘by far’ the most common Asset of Community Value listing: Pubs are by far the most common type of community asset registered by councils under localism rules, making up more than a third of the total listed, according to research by Planning Resource website. At the 134 councils surveyed a total of 616 applications has been made, with 550 decisions and 433 community assets listed. If this pattern were to be repeated across England’s 326 local planning authorities, there would be more than 1,000 assets listed. Pubs top the list with 155 approved, almost three times more than the second most popular asset, community centres. Pubs make up 36% of all the assets listed, the analysis shows.

Vintage fashion entrepreneur opens stripped-down coffee shop: Vintage fashion entrepreneur Luke Tanner, who owns the UK’s largest online vintage fashion retailer Thrifty Beatnik, has opened a stripped-down coffee concept. Hip Cat Coffee on Newcastle’s Byker Bridge will sell just three types of coffee – americano, flat whites and filter coffee. Tanner was inspired to simplify his menu after he experienced how other countries enjoyed their brews. He said: “Most places like their coffee strong. We sell double espresso shot 8oz flat whites and americanos as well as help-yourself filter coffee. If you want a tepid to mildly warm pint of coffee-flavoured milkshake there’s a million Costas in town. Too much choice equals queueing and eye-rolling and that’s what we’re trying to avoid.” Rails also hang either side of the bar adorned with high quality retro items for customers to peruse whilst they wait, including shirts and blouses, berets and tweed jackets.

Company News: 

Wabi owners praise Barclays for support in re-building restaurant – unlike insurance company: Owners of original Wabi in Horsham, Paul and Verity Craig, have praised Barclays for its support in re-opening the site this week – it was destroyed by fire in May six months after they had acquired the venue out of administration for more than £1m. The restaurant re-opens this week despite the restaurant’s insurer refusing to pay out after citing a “small-print terms and conditions loophole”. Paul Verity said: “We’ve been bowled over by how supportive Barclays have been, not only with the necessary loans but also personally.” One gesture by the bank surprised the couple in particular. “I received a call from my corporate bank manager. He said that he and his senior who I’d dealt with were so sorry to hear about what we had gone through and how badly our insurance group had treated us that they would like to offer to ‘throw on their jeans and T-shirts on one of their holiday days and help us rebuild at Wabi.” The couple is appealing against the insurance company’s decision.

Seven more Marco Pierre White franchised sites at “advanced stage” of negotiation: The Black & White Franchising Group, which operates under the trading name New York Italian Limited and has Marco Pierre White as shareholder, is in advanced negotiations to open seven more franchised Marco Pierre White Steakhouse and Marco’s New York Italian sites in the UK. The company has 12 sites in operation and plans 50 new franchised restaurants within five years. A spokesman for the company, headed by Nick Taplin, told Propel: “Contracts for seven restaurants are in advanced stages of negotiation, including a Manchester site, a further Scottish venue, and two in London.” The company has stressed that Matthew Clark remains its sole supplier of wine after a suggestion that it had another supplier. A spokesman stated: “As one of the country’s leading suppliers of drinks to the hospitality sector, the group has enjoyed a healthy relationship with Matthew Clark for many years while all Marco Pierre White restaurants under the Black & White Franchising banner will continue to buy their wines solely from Matthew Clark.”

Wetherspoon confirms acquisition of third Dublin pub: JD Wetherspoon has confirmed the purchase of The Old Boro pub in the suburb of Swords – its third pub in Dublin. Last month, the company opened its first pub in the capital with The Three Tun Tavern in Blackrock, on the site of the former Tonic pub. At the same time as the opening of The Three Tun Tavern, it confirmed that it had purchased the extensive Forty Foot premises in Dun Laoghaire. Those purchases were made for a reported €1.5m each. Now Wetherspoon has its first Dublin pub north of the River Liffey as it confirmed the purchase of The Old Boro. “Wetherspoon is delighted to have completed the purchase, this week, of The Old Boro, in Main Street, Swords,” a spokesman said.

Number of closed McDonald’s restaurants in Russia climbs to a dozen: The number of closed McDonald’s restaurants in Russia has grown to 12 over the past several days as tensions between Moscow and the West intensified after Kiev accused Russia of invading Ukraine. By Friday, a dozen restaurants had been shut down by Rospotrebnadzor, Russia’s state consumer regulator, over alleged sanitary violations – up from eight on Thursday – and an unprecedented 100 outlets were being inspected, up from several last week, the company said in a statement. “We are studying the essence of claims laid to us to determine the actions necessary to open the restaurants for our customers as soon as possible,” McDonald’s said.

Mitchells & Butlers to convert Cheltenham O’Neill’s to Castle estate: Mitchells & Butlers is to convert its O’Neill’s site in Cheltenham to its Castle estate. O’Neill’s in Montpellier Street will close on 6 October, shortly after its 20th birthday, for a refurbishment and be renamed Harry Cook’s Freehouse, which was its original name around 100 years ago. Sarah Williams, who had been deputy manager at the premises for six years, said the new-look pub will offer a better quality menu and a larger compliment of ales and wine.

Mountain Range Restaurants acquires fourth site, targets 15: Mountain Range Restaurants, the West Sussex company chaired and co-founded by Stephen May and led by Greg Mangham, has acquired a fourth site, The Chequers at Slaugham on a free-of-tie lease – the site was previously operated by Brighton–based Laine Pub Company. The company, whose food offer combines Alpine favourites such as tartiflette and rosti with gourmet burgers, plans to grow to 15 sites within the next two years trough individual or group acquisitions – May and Mangham are now exploring various funding avenues to support their growth strategy.

Bluewater reports 8.1% rose in July sales: Bluewater shopping centre has reported sales rose 8.1% in July compared to the same time last year, significantly ahead of British Retail Consortium’s figure of -0.3% for the UK as a whole. In addition, sales in Q2 were 6.1% higher than 2013, and year-to-date sales are 5.2% up versus last year. The shopping centre announced yesterday that Steamer Trading Cookshop, which specialises in cookware and homeware, has taken a 3,900 square foot two-level store trading on Bluewater’s Upper Thames Walk, opening this October as its first out-of-town store – a number of Steamer Trading sites offer a cafe.

Hawksmoor lawyer to open Soho restaurant: A lawyer who helped advise the shareholders of the Hawksmoor restaurant group on the sale of their stake in the business to the private equity firm Graphite Capital is set to open his own restaurant in Soho, Central London, backed by Hawksmoor itself. Gordon Ker, of the law firm Olswang, has set up a company called Understudy Ltd to run a restaurant called Jacob’s Ladder, described as an “exciting grill concept” with capacity for 50 diners, at 24 Great Windmill Street in Soho. Last week the developer Soho Limited secured planning permission for the new venture, formerly home to the illegal Soho Cabaret clip joint. Soho Limited said the new lettings would “occupy premises that have been vacant for many years and will assist in regenerating and improving the quality of Great Windmill Street.” Ker, who is described on his LinkedIn page as a “dealmaker with a focus on real estate and hotels, leisure and hospitality,” is said to be being “advised” by Will Beckett and Huw Gott, the pair behind the Hawksmoor restaurant group, with the application to Westminster Council for planning permission saying that the venture was “backed” by the operators of Hawksmoor. Ker was the number two advisor for Olswang’s leisure practice when it acted for the selling shareholders and the management team of Underdog Restaurants, the owner of the Hawksmoor, to Graphite Capital. 

Black Boy owner opens Black Hole hotel: David Nicholson, owner of The Black Boy pub, Black Rat restaurant and Black Bottle wine bar in Winchester, has opened a ten-room bed and breakfast establishment in the city called the Black Hole. Nicholson, who took over The Black Boy in 1995, and subsequently grew his empire in Winchester, told The Hampshire Chronicle that he chose the name Black Hole, which evokes the “Black Hole of Calcutta” incident in India in 1756, when 146 Britons were imprisoned in a dungeon and a reputed 123 died, “because the rooms are small and bijou”. The Black Hole is next door to the pub and the Michelin-starred restaurant on Wharf Hill.

App maps big coffee shop chains: An online tool has been designed to calculate the number of big-brand coffee shop outlets near any given postcode in England and Wales. The tool, which uses the Food Standards Agency online database of 1,429 Costa Coffee outlets, 641 Starbucks and 496 Caffe Nero shops in England and Wales, lets users type in their postcode to see how many outlets of the three chains there are within one mile and five miles. It shows, for example, that within one mile of the junction of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road in London there are 38 Starbucks, 31 Caffe Neros and 27 Costa Coffees, for a total of 96 big-chain cafes, while in Ambleside in the Lake District, perhaps the area where one is least likely to find a big-chain coffee outlet of anywhere in the country, there is just one Costa Coffee within a mile, and two Costa Coffee outlets within five miles, with no Starbucks and no Caffe Neros. The tool, put together by The Manchester Evening News, can be found at http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/whats-on/food-drink-news/how-many-costa-starbucks-nero-7685270

Tragus to close Bath Strada: Tragus will close its Strada outlet in Bath today (1 September) as part of its restructuring. A spokesman from the company said the restaurant, in Sawclose, had been sold to an independent operator. He was unable to confirm how many jobs would be lost with the closure. In June Zolfo Cooper was appointed to act as adviser to Tragus for a financial restructuring to reduce its debt burden by around £263m and put in place new term loan facilities, which involved new rent deals with its landlords. Tragus owns 56 Strada restaurants, as well as the Café Rouge and Bella Italia chains. 

Durham pub company looks to reopen well-known Newcastle restaurant: Durham Pubs Ltd, which owns The Red Lion Hotel in Chester-le-Street, County Durham, has started talks to open Rumpoli’s on the Quayside in Newcastle upon Tyne. A spokesman for the company said: “We’re in negotiations with the landlord who took over the lease of the building but there’s a lot that can happen. We’ve applied for a licence and subject to the granting of the licence, we’ll see how we proceed.” The spokesman said it could take to the end of the year before any deal is finalised. The restaurant was once owned by the top north east of England comic Bobby Pattinson. A number of pubs and restaurants have been set up since top chef Kenny Atkinson opened his House of Tides restaurant on the Quayside, including The Hop & Cleaver, which opened in July in what was the former Offshore 44 bar. 

Opus team to open new bar: The team behind two Birmingham restaurants, Opus in Cornwall Street and Cafe Opus at Ikon, are to open a new bar in the city’s Colmore Business District. Bar Opus, at the foot of One Snowhill, is the latest venture by Ann Tonks, Irene Allen and David Colcombe, who opened the Opus restaurant nine years ago. The 120-capacity, 1,700 sq ft venue is expected to open in November. It will be the first restaurant or cafe operator in the building. Tonks said: “We opened Café Opus last February in the Ikon gallery, as we wanted to continue to grow the Opus family in an imaginative way, and Bar Opus is further testament to this ethos. The area at this end of Colmore Row is a real destination for those looking for bars and restaurants and we’re excited to have secured a prime location so close to Snow Hill station. The building is home to great professional businesses like KPMG, Barclays and DWF and the fact that Wragge Lawrence Graham are now in Two Snowhill and the HS2 construction headquarters are moving to the building is an indication of how the area will continue to develop over the coming years.” Work on the site, which is managed by Savills and will feature designs from Suzanne Barnes Design Partnership, started last week.

Sunderland’s The Point acquired by bar owner: The Point, the Sunderland nightclub previously owned by Amazing Leisure, has been taken over by Nightlife North East, set up by Lorraine Griffiths, who runs the city’s Chaplins bar. The Point, in Holmeside, was closed by bailiffs early in August, on behalf of the landlord. Griffiths told The Sunderland Echo that in the short term, she is organising a programme of party nights with live entertainment, while long-term plans include turning the main nightclub into a music venue similar to Newcastle’s O2 Academy. She said: “The Stadium of Light does a fantastic job bringing massive international names to Sunderland but what we also need is a venue which can host bands with medium sized crowds. We know that many of our customers go to Durham or Newcastle to see bands and we want them to come to Sunderland and bring business here, so we hope we can get the backing of businesses in the city.” The Point, once home to the ABC Cinema, was re-launched as a nightspot in 2005 following a £5 million revamp.

Costa, Greggs and Subway for Gallagher Retail Park: Costa Coffee, Greggs and Subway will be taking up space at the Gallagher Retail Park in Cheltenham, helping push the occupancy level at the park up to 99%, British Land said. A year ago the park was reported to be 20% empty. The site is owned by the Gibraltar Limited Partnership, which is a 50:50 joint venture between Hercules Unit Trust and The Crown Estate. British Land advised Hercules Unit Trust on the lettings.

Malting company hails rise of microbreweries: Pauls Malt, the Suffolk-based malting company, saw revenue rise nearly 15% for the year to 30 June 2013, and hailed the boom in the UK’s microbrewery scene. In its financial accounts, Pauls Malt said there has been a sharp fall in beer consumption since the introduction of the beer duty escalator by the Chancellor in 2008, with duty rates increased by 42% while beer sales have fallen by 17%. It said: “The duty escalator has now been overturned, which is positive, but economic and lifestyle changes continue to weigh heavy on beer consumption.” However, the company said: “One positive development is the growth in micro-breweries, which are estimated to be growing by 7% per year particularly as they have a tendency to use a higher proportion of malt in their grist.” The company, which makes and sells malt to the UK and overseas markets and provides barley sourcing and storage services, reported revenue of £129.7m for the year to 30 June 2013, up from £112.9m reported in 2012. A rise in direct costs have resulted in a reduced operating profit of £9.1m, down from £9.9m. Pre-tax profit fell to £1.8m for the year, down from nearly £2m the year before, as a result of increased distribution costs and administrative expenses.

McDonald’s marks 40 years in UK with nationwide ad campaign: McDonald’s is marking 40 years of operations in the UK with a nationwide advertising campaign supposed to remind customers about the role it has played in the memorable moments in their lives. The “Celebrating 40 Years Together” campaign is being rolled out now with outdoor ads centring on “everyday timeless moments”. One ad shows a man waiting in a hospital ward as he holds a McDonald’s McCafe cup, hinting at the arrival of a newborn. Another advert features a couple sharing a meal during a break between decorating their new home. The campaign also debuted on television at the weekend. McDonald’s is also asking fans to record their personal memories of the brand through a specially created website that uses Google’s speech recognition software to display the words on screen as they are spoken before turning the phrase into an animated poster.

Spirit turns Fylde pub into 115th Flaming Grill with £145,000 conversion: Spirit Pub Company has reopened The Shovels in Common Edge Road, Marton, Fylde, Lancashire after a £145,000 makeover to turn the bar and restaurant into a Flaming Grill pub. Landlord Kevin Craughwell said: “We have gone to town on the changes. We have spent thousands of pounds on the toilets and put booths in [the bar area]. We also have plenty of big screens to watch sport on, including a new sports area with plasma televisions. The pub will still host music and festivals, but the work will really bring the pub into the 21st Century. It is a massive change for the pub. I believe we are the 115th pub to become a Flaming Grill and we are one which has had the most money invested.” Craughwell, who runs the pub with wife Tanya, said the revamp included the hiring of another 12 staff.

Greene King local hero estate hits 30 sites – plans for 20 more: Greene King Pub Partners, the leased and tenanted pub division of Greene King, has reached 30 pubs operating under its innovative Local Hero agreement. The milestone comes as Greene King launches a new dedicated Local Hero website amid plans for a further 20 sites. The framework for the Local Hero agreement focuses on celebrating and championing everything local, from microbreweries to the local farm shop. Pubs operating under the agreement are typically characterful with quirky features. Clive Chesser, business unit director for Greene King Pub Partners, said: “The support for Local Hero is really gathering steam and we have seen a real boom in interest in it from potential licensees and our existing tenants. After initially refining the approach, we established a modern agreement, which gives licensees the opportunity to genuinely and proudly establish themselves at the heart of a local community. With a smaller, quality estate, we are keen to add even more of our pubs to our Local Hero roster and are actively working towards a higher number.” At the bar, licensees are expected to stock half of their cask ales from local microbreweries, with well-known brands and craft ales from Greene King forming the other half. Local Hero was launched by Greene King in 2011. Greene King Local Hero pubs include The Antelope in Surbiton, The Alexandra Arms in Cambridge and The Goat & Boot in Colchester, one of the most recent additions.

Nick Batram – ‘The Restaurant Group machine continue to deliver’: Peel Hunt leisure analyst Nick Batram has issued a ‘Buy’ note on Restaurant Group shares in the wake of Friday’s results announcement. Arguing that the “machine continues to deliver”, he said: “Few companies in the leisure sector can match Restaurant Group in terms of its consistently high delivery, and the H1 results didn’t disappoint. On the face of it, the shares don’t look cheap, but the combination of high returns on investment, a growing pipeline and a broadening out of the economic recovery suggest that there is further outperformance to come. The stock doesn’t look overly cheap on a 2015 price-to-earnings ratio of circa 20x. However, not only does Restaurant Group have a highly impressive track record of double-digit earnings and dividend growth, but as the economic recovery broadens out, underlying growth could accelerate further. This, combined with a growing pipeline and excellent returns on investment, continue to justify our ‘Buy’ recommendation.” 

Bullmastiff Brewery up for sale: The Bullmastiff Brewery in Cardiff, which supplies circa 50 outlets in South Wales with cask ales, has been closed and put up for sale by its founders, the brothers Bob and Paul James. They set up the brewery at Penarth Docks in 1987, relocating to Leckwith in 1992 to make way for Penarth Marina. The pair have been honoured several times by the Campaign for Real Ale, most notably in 2000 when their Welsh Gold ale was named Champion Beer of Great Britain. They have also won Champion Beer of Wales awards on numerous occasions. Bob, who named the brewery after his love for his bullmastiff dogs, said it had been 27 years of bliss. “We have been putting off the sale for some time but now health issues have forced us to do it,” he said. Paul, who was a licensee and, like his brother, started work at the brewery at around 3.30am each day, said: “It has been our lives and I’m devastated having to give it up. I still can’t get used to it.” The brothers are confident the brewery will be bought as a going concern and that their best-known beer, Son of a Bitch, will be brewed again. Bob said: “It’s gone but not for long. I hope that perhaps we may take on a consultancy role to whoever takes over.” The brewery does not run any pubs, but its unofficial brewery tap is the Wetherspoon-owned Boars Head in Penarth, where the brothers marked their retirement.

Record £22,600 fines and costs award for showing Sky illegally: Sky Federation Against Copyright Theft (‘FACT’) has secured a conviction resulting in the licensees of Hogan’s Bar in Doncaster being ordered to pay a record £22,600 in fines and costs for showing Sky Sports illegally. This latest prosecution is the eleventh brought by FACT this season alone, bringing total fines and costs paid by licensees across the UK to £68,765.57. In this latest case, Simon Barnett and Anthony Ball of Hogan’s Bar, alongside Doncaster Balls Limited, were found guilty in their absence on 22 August at Doncaster Magistrates Court for dishonest reception of a television transmission (a Sky televised football match) without a commercial viewing agreement with the intent to avoid payment of the applicable charge, contrary to Section 297 (1) of the Copyright Design and Patents Act 1988. The resulting order to pay a combined total of £22,600 in fines and costs sets a new record following a criminal conviction for illegal Sky use in licenced premises.

Burnley nightclub to become Polynesian-themed venue: One of Burnley’s longest running nightclubs has closed to pave the way for a re-launch as a themed venue. Posh nightclub in Ormerod Street closed down last weekend but owner Mick Cookson has revealed a Polynesian themed venue called Rum Jungle for the location. Cookson told the local newspaper: “It was a big decision to close after so many years and it felt sad to bring an end to Posh because it is still a successful club and customers were packing in on the final two nights. But I feel that you have to move with the times. I have been running nightclubs in this town for 25 years but I believe it has hit a lull when it comes to nightlife and something new is needed.”

Financial Times – Restaurant Group executive not speaking on behalf of the company when he backed Scottish independence: The Financial Times has reported that a row has broken out over a letter from 200 business people backing Scottish independence after a Restaurant Group signatory said he had asked for his employer’s name to be removed. In a list trumpeted by the Yes campaign that largely consisted of small and medium-sized businesses, Restaurant Group, stood out as one of the only large listed companies. That was in contrast to a letter published the previous day by the No campaign from 130 business leaders opposing independence. Signatories included HSBC Holdings chairman Douglas Flint, the chief executive of engineering firm Weir Group Keith Cochrane, Aggreko interim chief executive Angus Cockburn and Niall Booker, chief executive of Co-operative Bank. The Yes letter, published in The Herald newspaper, featured smaller companies including a guest house, architectural practices, solicitors and a bakery, as well as Restaurant Group. However, signatory Derek Mallon, an executive at Restaurant Group, told The FT that his company’s name should not have been published. Contacted by The Financial Times, he said his signature to the letter was: “My own personal views on the subject [that] have nothing to do with The Restaurant Group and it was a misunderstanding that led to the company name being mentioned.” Mr Mallon said he would ask Business for Scotland, the organisers of the letter, to remove Restaurant Group’s name from the list. He is deputy managing director for some of the group’s brands and heads 35 restaurants, of which seven are in Scotland. A spokesman for Restaurant Group told The FT: “We are an apolitical organisation that is not supporting either the Yes or No campaign.”

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