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Thu 11th Sep 2014 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Barclays – the way people are consuming coffee has changed: Leisure analysts at Barclays have argued that the way Britons are drinking coffee has changed. The coffee shop market has continued to grow, but coffee consumption per head has not, with consumption levels are now lower than they were in 2006. Britons consume 2.8kg per head, just a fraction of the 7kg consumed in Germany, 7.1kg in Sweden and 5.5kg in France. Vicki Stern, a Barclays leisure analyst, said in a research note: “This means that the growth of coffee shops has in no way increased the UK consumption of coffee. Rather, the way in which coffee is being consumed has changed, with people now visiting coffee shops where they might previously have consumed instant coffee at home or in the workplace.” Andy Harrison, chief executive of Whitbread, told The Daily Telegraph he believes coffee shops have now filled a hole in British society that would previously have been met by pubs. Families and women in particular use coffee shops for social gatherings, he said. He also pointed out that women now have greater spending power than in the past. “Think of the coffee shop as a social venue,” he said. “What we have seen is the coffee shop market has grown at about 5% per annum throughout the recession even in the most economically challenged parts of the UK. We think the reasons behind that are to do with things like the growth of female independence, female spending power. Over half of our customers are women.”

Industry News:

More than 100 attend first Propel Investors and Operators Dinner: More than 100 operators, private equity executives, bankers, alternative lenders and deal-makers attended the first Propel Operators and Investor Dinner, held at Plaisterer’s Hall in London on Tuesday night. The event, sponsored by the soft drink brand Zeo, was an opportunity for expanding companies to broaden their network of contacts. Propel’s managing director Paul Charity said: “The idea was to allow expansion-minded companies to meet more of the people who are well-placed to facilitate their future plans. The dinner was a tremendous success, with tickets quickly selling out, and it will be interesting to see how new contacts forged on the night are employed going forward.”

Pint Shop pledges support for Tax Equality Day: Pint Shop, the innovative Cambridge-based concept set up by ex-Leon staff and specialising in British meat and beer, will drop its prices by 15% on Wednesday 24 September to show its support for calls to cut the VAT rate in the hospitality sector. The campaign group is aiming to convince the government that the VAT rate in the hospitality should be reduced from 20% to 5%. Richard Holmes, co-owner of Pint Shop, said: “We strongly believe that the level of VAT paid by customers at restaurants, pubs, bars and hotels should be cut in order to encourage a more level playing field between the retail industry and the hospitality industry. We see the VAT rate as one of the biggest challenges faced by pubs today, as customers pay far more than they would at the supermarket, making it less of an incentive to support their local. We will be wholeheartedly supporting the Tax Equality Day on Wednesday 24 September.” Richard Holmes, the former operations manager of Leon, and Benny Peverelli, Leon’s former executive chef, will present at the Propel Multi Club Conference on Thursday 20 November at the Landmark Hotel in London. They will set out how they have re-invented the pub for the 21st century with the Pint Shop, Cambridge’s first new-build site in a decade. Operators can claim two free places by emailing

Former Coors executive launches crowd-funding for London Velvet: The former Bass and Molson Coors executive David Green has launched a fund-raiding drive on Crowdcube to raise money for his London Velvet brand, a drink that is a blend of London-style porter beer (70%) and West Country cider (30%). He is looking to raise £35,000 in return for 15% of his equity. The money will be used to increase distribution and sales. The pitch says: “We aim to develop a strong presence in both on (pubs) and off trade (supermarkets, off licences) and develop some key export markets, namely the US and Europe.” The business plan shows a profitable operation and positive cash flow within 12 months, and a profit of £100,000 on sales of £2.6m in the third year.

US restaurant companies among the first retailers to adopt Apple pay: Restaurant companies in the United States will be among the first retailers to integrate Apple Pay, the phone payment platform that Apple unveiled on Tuesday. Apple said that the platform will launch in October at restaurants brands including Panera Bread and Starbucks, and it is planning a rollout at Chipotle Mexican Grill and Subway. The technology company worked with McDonald’s and Subway in developing the platform, though it is unclear when and if either chain would adopt the payment platform. Panera Bread said Apple Pay will be “an easy, secure and private way to make purchases” at its 1,818 outlets via the just-introduced iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch.

Horizons – independence for Scotland could spur foodservice growth: Foodservice looks set to play an important role in Scotland’s economy if the referendum next week returns a “Yes” for independence, and could stimulate growth in the sector. Figures from the foodservice consultancy Horizons estimate that Scotland’s foodservice market to be worth £3.1bn, some 6.8% of the UK foodservice sector. There is also potential for further growth, as the average spend per head on eating out in Scotland is lower than the UK average. Scottish consumers spend an average of £602 a year on eating out, 17% lower than the UK average of £724 a year. Horizons’ managing director, Peter Backman, said: “An independent Scotland could see renewed interest in eating out as tourism is boosted alongside business. Scotland lags behind the rest of the UK in terms of eating out, and particularly sectors such as casual dining and quick service so we are likely to see growth in these areas.” Compared with the UK, Scotland has a strong bias towards eating out in hotels, which represents 33% of the market (against 19% across the UK). Popular destination eating out (in restaurants, pubs, takeaways and fast food) represents a lower proportion of eating out spend in Scotland, at 43%, against the average spend in the rest of the UK at 62%. Annual growth for the foodservice sector in Scotland is forecast at 2.1%, the same as for the rest of the UK.

Record number of UK breweries: The UK has more breweries per head of the population than any other country, according Camra’s Good Beer Guide 2015, published today. Another 170 new breweries opened in the last year, taking the total number in the UK to 1,285 – the largest number since the industry heyday before the Second World War.

Company News:

Nightclub company No Saints likely to leave creditors £2.35m out-of-pocket: No Saints, the operator of Wonderland nightclubs and Jam House led by Luminar founder Stephen Thomas that went through a pre-pack administration in July, is likely to leave unsecured creditors owed £2.35m. At the moment, HMRC is owed £332,000 and trade creditors are owed £2.3m. The administrator, FRP Advisory, began a sale process in late June with 26 interested parties issued with details of the business. Final offers were submitted at the start of July, with No Saints existing management bidding £1.73m successfully for the seven trading sites under a vehicle called Exeat Leisure.

Beefeater launches autumn menu with new and improved dishes and ‘limited edition’ steak: Whitbread’s 142-outlet Beefeater pub-restaurant chain has launched its new autumn menu, with new dishes, including one named to celebrate the chain’s 40th anniversary, and tweaks and improvements to others. The new dishes include the ’74 Signature Steak, an 8oz “tri-tip” steak cut from beneath the sirloin for £12.79, which Whitbread says is the first tri-tip steak on sale in Britain, and which will be available for a limited time only, as part of Beefeater’s 40th anniversary celebrations. It comes with ultimate or skinny chips, grilled tomato and mushroom, pea shoots and a side salad. Other new dishes include sticky mini riblets, smoky mini-pork ribs tossed in BBQ sauce, served with fresh celery and ranch dressing, for £5.49; flat iron steak skewers, flat-iron steak pieces skewered and cooked well-done, glazed with Beefeater house steak sauce and finished with garlic and herb chimichurri and fresh pea shoots, for £4.99; Veg-Out burger, a Quorn burger topped with grilled halloumi cheese and roasted red pepper, served in a soft glazed bun with lettuce, tomato, red onion, smoky tomato sauce and ranch dressing, served with skinny chips and coleslaw, for £9.99; and apple and cherry Crumble, apples with cherries, topped with a golden shortcake crumble and served with custard, £4.79. The chain says it has also tweaked several items, including a “meatier” mixed grill and improved recipes for the £9.99 double steak burger, the £11.49 double bacon and cheese steak burger and the £2.99 macaroni cheese with bacon.

Brentwood multi-siter to open champagne bar and restaurant: Brentwood, Essex multi-siter Adam Brooks is to turn the Rose and Crown in Ongar Road, Pilgrims Hatch into a champagne bar and restaurant called the Crown. The opening date is scheduled for November. Brooks said: “During the week this is also going to be a place where you can have a lunch or dinner for all the local people. This is for local people and people beyond. You can have 20-somethings dining on a table next to 60-somethings and the ambience is going to be exciting and appeal to all age groups.” Brooks, who also owns the Three Colts in Buckhurst Hill and is a partner in Chelmsford’s CTZN bar, said: “It’s going to be a stylish restaurant complete with a champagne and cocktail bar.”

Inventive re-launches £3.9m annual revenue cocktail masterclasses: The New Inventive Bar Company, the largest provider of cocktail masterclasses in the UK, has re-launched its highly successful masterclass programme for its Revolution brand, which currently enjoys annual sales of £3.9 million and attracts 150,000 customers a year. The 90 minute fun and interactive sessions take customers on a journey to understand the history, tools and skills of mixology, whilst also allowing them to get behind the bar to muddle, shake, stir and strain their way through a range of classic and innovative cocktails. Kate Eastwood, director of business development, The New Inventive Bar Company, said: “We’ve been running our cocktail masterclasses for four years now; and to say they are hugely popular is an understatement. They’ve become a bit of an institution now with customers with many choosing to come back. The programme makes up a significant proportion of our pre-booked revenue, currently enjoying 16% year-on-year growth. As the UK’s leading provider of cocktail masterclasses, we are absolutely committed to providing our customers with the ultimate high-end experience, which will take our masterclasses to a level which cannot be rivalled!” 

Corrigan to open restaurant and cookery school: A new restaurant and cookery school in Co Cavan, Ireland, set up by chef Richard Corrigan, who runs three restaurants in London, is expected to create up to 70 new jobs. Corrigan bought the 100-acre 17th century Park Hotel in Virginia last year. The lodge is already exporting supplies to Corrigan’s restaurants in London. He said: “We’ve been very busy rebuilding the grounds and the house, turning the whole place around. A lot of work has been done, and that will continue over the next three years.”

Christie + Co markets WPC Inns sites in administration: The property agent Christie + Co has been instructed by Menzies, administrators of WPC Inns, to market three pubs in and around Windsor. The three leasehold sites are the Royal Oak and Bar 51 in Windsor and the Prince George in Eton. All have been placed immediately on the market. The Royal Oak, a busy pub restaurant opposite the station, has a price of £95,000. Bar 51, a modern bar and restaurant in the town centre, is available for £25,000. The Prince George in Eton High Street, a bar restaurant with nine en-suite letting rooms close to the river, is available for offers in excess of £65,000.

Douglas Jack cuts Greene King recommendation: Numis Securities’ leisure analyst Douglas Jack has cut his Greene King recommendation from ‘Buy’ to ‘Add’, with a 975p target price, after yesterday’s trading update. He said: “Greene King’s strategy is to grow its managed estate (circa 73% of group profit), reduce its reliance on tenanted pubs (circa 17% of group profit) and at least maintain brewing profitability. Although the managed pubs were arguably outperformed by the tenanted and brewing divisions in Q1, this is a rare event and the strategy is right for the long term, in our view. However, we are cutting our forecasts by 3% and moving our recommendation to ‘Add’ from ‘Buy’ following recent strength. We are taking 3% off our forecasts (2015E PBT to £174.7m from £180.3m; consensus £179.4m) to reflect the timing of new openings and lower margin assumptions. As we have said previously, 2015E is likely to be a year of limited growth due to 3% dilution from the Hawthorn Leisure disposal and 2.5% dilution from the 53rd week in the comp.”

Wyn Ellis – the Diageo glass is half full: Numis Securities’ leisure analyst Wyn Ellis has issued a ‘Hold’ note on Diageo shares, with a 1900p target price, arguing that its glass is half full. He said: “Diageo, in our view, has promising medium-term growth attractions but, it faces continued short-term challenges in volatile emerging markets and stagnant demand in Western Europe and needs to demonstrate progress in revitalising the Smirnoff brand in North America. Following a close review of the FY14 results and after reviewing the outlook in each of Diageo’s geographic regions (outlined within this report) we have trimmed our forecasts (FY15E EPS cut to 95.8p from 100.8p). Our recommendation remains ‘Hold’.”

Grind opens fourth site in Holborn hotel: The London coffee bar chain Grind & Co has opened a fourth site, in the Hoxton Hotel, on the corner of High Holborn and Newton Street. It joins the three other outlets run by Kaz James and David Abrahamovitch, Shoreditch Grind, Soho Grind, and the underground pop-up Piccadilly Grind. Grind began when Abrahamovitz, a Londoner, enlisted his friend Kaz James, a DJ from Melbourne with a passion for coffee, to help turn his father’s mobile phone shop, a stand-alone perfectly circular building perched on the edge of the Old Street roundabout on the edge of the City of London, into an espresso bar. James worked for months with a boutique roastery to develop a custom blend, the Grind & Co house espresso blend. Later, the pair added a recording studio upstairs, and started opening later, serving espresso martinis and other cocktails and an expanded food menu. In May 2014 their second cafe, Soho Grind, on Beak Street, Soho, opened, with a separate basement space dedicated to cocktails. In June, Piccadilly Grind, a pop-up take-away only espresso bar, opened in Piccadilly Circus station. Holborn Grind will serve the house blend, alongside a bespoke single-origin coffee selected especially for Holborn. In addition, Holborn Grind will serve an all-day food menu, including a selection of pastries, fresh fruit and eggs on toast for breakfast, fresh salads and the Grind’s signature piadinas, for lunch, along with an evening menu of a sharing plates of Italian cold meats and cheeses.

Costa Coffee expands into the Philippines: Costa Coffee has unveiled plans to enter the Philippines, in partnership with Robinsons Retail Holdings. Costa operates across 30 countries and has more than 2,900 stores globally, covering operations in Europe, Russia, the Middle East, North Africa, India, China and South East Asia. With stores already in Singapore, Thailand and Cambodia, the move into the Philippines continues the brand’s expansion in South East Asia, with the first store planned to open in Manila early next year. Andy Marshall, managing director of Costa Coffee International Franchise, said: “Costa is a truly global brand that is enjoyed by customers all over the world. We are pleased to be extending our reach into the Philippines, where there is already an established coffee culture.”

Porky’s BBQ opens third site: Following the success of its original Camden site and the recently launched Bankside site, a third Porky’s BBQ restaurant will open late October in Boxpark, East London. Porky’s BBQ offers Memphis-style barbecue dishes, Americana-inspired cocktails and a wide selection of bourbons and rye whiskies, as well as craft beers. The 1,200 sq ft site, 50-cover restaurant, will take up four units in the unique shopping and dining pop-up mall built entirely from shipping containers. “‘We were always hoping to open our third site soon but have been pleasantly surprised to find one so quickly and are very excited to be bringing our authentic Memphis-style barbecue to Shoreditch’s Boxpark,” said owner Simon Brigg. Mark Calder, of Restaurant Property, which has been appointed as sole adviser to Porky’s BBQ and is assisting the company in its ambitious expansion, said: “Boxpark has become one of the world’s most creative markets with a reputation for showcasing some of the coolest new concepts.”

PizzaExpress opens in Swindon: PizzaExpress has opened at the Swindon Outlet Centre, creating 30 new jobs. The new restaurant can seat 120 diners. The new site has incorporated elements of local history and culture, in line with the chain’s current design strategy. The Swindon restaurant is in the renovated listed building of the Great Western Railway works. The interior decor includes timber, blackened steel, leather and industrial lighting, with private dining areas having the appearance of railway booths, equipped with vintage rail carriage storage racks and mood lighting, while metal fret-cut screens give the appearance of train tracks.

BrewDog – pop-up bar in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall a success: The Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog has reported that its first pop-up bar in the Tate Modern’s cavernous Turbine Hall in London was a success. The company said: “We’ve got history with the Tate, having created a bespoke rye IPA with them last year for their Lichtenstein retrospective. This year’s popup bar enabled us to offer our headliners range of craft beers for anyone visiting the gallery and wanting to indulge in a little liquid art between exhibitions. In addition, a screening of Matisse’s work was projected onto the wall by our bar, so you could combine both art and craft beer in one sitting.”

Wagamama to open first site in a Grade II listed building next week: Wagamama is to open at the Swindon Mcarthurglen designer outlet next Monday (15 September). The opening is creating 50 jobs and will be the first Wagamama within 20 miles. This will also be the first Wagamama housed inside a grade II listed building, as part of the Swindon designer outlet’s renovation of the National Trust Great Western Railway works.

Provenance inns opens York boutique hotel: Provenance Inns has opened a new boutique hotel, the West Park, in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, after a multi-million pound 18-month refurbishment. The West Park has been transformed from the original Victorian coach house into a hotel with 25 bedrooms and suites and a restaurant and bar overlooking the Harrogate Stray in the centre of town. The hotel includes eight individually designed suites, with one specifically being named Le Grand Depart, to commemorate the Tour de France, which passed through the town in July. The restaurant includes a courtyard for al fresco dining along with two private dining rooms catering for up to 70 guests. Michael Ibbotson, managing director of Provenance Inns, said: “We began the multi-million pound refurbishment over 18 months ago and we’re thrilled that we’re now finally ready to open the doors to the public.” Provenance Inns’ other outlets include the Carpenters Arms in Felixkirk, the Oak Tree in Helperby, the Crown and Cushion in Welburn, the Black Bull in Moulton, the Punch Bowl in Marton cum Grafton and the Durham Ox in Crayke.

Cote asked to take a more sympathetic approach to proposed Newbury site: Structural changes planned by Cote for one of Newbury’s most historic buildings were rejected last week in the hope that a “more sympathetic” proposal would be submitted. Cote is seeking permission to convert the Grade II-listed building at 102/103 Northbrook Street into a 152-seater restaurant. The building was recently discovered to date back to 1497, the reign of Henry VIII, making it one of the five oldest buildings in the town, and even older than St Nicolas Church, which was constructed in the early 1500s. Members of Newbury Town Council’s planning and highways committee voted in favour of the building’s change of use, but argued that a decision on the structural changes should be refused until more sympathetic and detailed design and heritage statements were submitted. One councillor, David Allen, said: “I appreciate it’s another restaurant, but it’s a high-quality chain and it’s new to this area. But the heritage and design statement does not reflect that the building is 300 years older than it was thought to be. The statement needs to be changed so that it reflects its history.”

Chinese Buffet chain rewards its Facebook fans: The Chinese Buffet chain of restaurants has marked the milestone of reaching 40,000 likes on Facebook by giving away a £40 voucher in each of its eight restaurants and a further £40 voucher to a nominated charity from each of the venues. Facebook fans were invited to post a comment explaining what they liked about The Chinese Buffet and nominate their favoured charity. One fan was chosen from each of the chain’s restaurants, in Bolton, Wigan, Preston, St Helens, Bradford, Halifax, Wakefield and Wrexham, to receive a voucher to spend £40 in their local restaurant and donate another £40 voucher to a local charity. Director Peter Wu said he wanted to show his appreciation to loyal customers. “Facebook is where our customers find out what’s going on in our restaurants and our following had grown significantly in recent months,” Wu said. “We are delighted that so many people regularly post on our Facebook wall and tell us what they like and don’t like, so we wanted to recognise this great milestone and put smiles on our customers’ faces.” The Chinese Buffet, an “all you can eat” operation specialising in Chinese food , is due to open a new outlet shortly in Blackpool, with other locations planned in the near future.

Krispy Kreme launches milkshake range: Krispy Kreme is launching a milkshakes range across the UK. The new Kreme Shake collection will feature four flavours inspired by Krispy Kreme’s classic doughnuts: chocolate dreamshake, strawberries and cream, caramel crunch and coffee kreme. The Kreme Shake range will be found at Krispy Kreme stores including Birmingham, Bluewater, Edinburgh, Leeds, Manchester Piccadilly and Gateshead.

Wadworth unveils new name for ‘industry first’ beer: In 1992, 22 years ago, Wadworth became the first brewer to take green hops fresh from the fields and use them to brew beer that could be drunk within days. A spokesman for the Wiltshire-based company said: “This month, the ground-breaking beer Malt ’n’ Hops has been re-named The Original Green Hopped Beer, a timely reminder that as well as being a bastion of brewing tradition, Wadworth is also a leader in brewing innovation. As the new name announces, Wadworth was the original brewer of green-hopped beer. Many brewers have copied the idea over the years, but no others can claim to use exactly the same method, time-tested equipment and years of experience that Wadworth employ to produce the father of all green hops beers.”

Wahaca launches Mexican breakfasts: Wahaca, the London-based Mexican restaurant chain, has launched a breakfast menu at two of its West End outlets, Great Portland Street and Charlotte Street. The menu includes Mexican baked eggs with roast tomato, chipotle and dippy sourdough, for £6; Huevos Rancheros Divorciados, two fried eggs in two different salsas with blue corn tortillas, baby leaf spinach, crumbled Lancashire cheese and crema, for £6; Breakfast Burrito, a toasted flour tortilla filled with Mexican scrambled eggs, frijoles, salsa and either spinach, feta and avocado for £5.50, streaky bacon for £6.50 or chorizo for £6.50; French toast with maple agave and streaky bacon, for £6.50; and Avocado toast, £4.50. Breakfast is available at Wahaca Great Portland Street from 7.30am weekdays, 9am weekends, and Wahaca Charlotte Street from 8am weekdays, 9am weekends.

Ex-Burger King chief Kevin Higgins becomes Domino’s non-exec: Domino’s Pizza Group has appointed Kevin Higgins, president of Burger King Holdings EMEA between August 2009 and October 2010, as a non-executive director. He has also worked for Pepsico Restaurants in London and for M&M/Mars Inc in the UK and the United States. Stephen Hemsley, chairman of Domino’s, said: “I am delighted to welcome Kevin to Domino’s as a non-executive director. Kevin’s wealth of experience from both within and beyond the consumer foods industry will make him a valuable addition to the board.”

Six restaurants planned for proposed £4m Skelmersdale scheme: Six new restaurants are proposed as part of a planned £4m development featuring a multi-screen cinema proposed for the Concourse Shopping Centre in Skelmersdale. Lancashire. Under the proposals lodged with West Lancashire Council, there would be a 695-seat cinema developed on the second floor of the shopping centre. There would also be two new food outlets, and four existing units on the first floor would be converted into restaurants. Jo Salmon, retail portfolio manager for London and Cambridge Properties, a partner in the company that owns the Concourse, Skelmersdale Limited Partnership, said: “We’ve been working hard with architects to put forward proposals for a deliverable leisure complex that will enhance the town and would enable local people to stay in Skelmersdale for their entertainment, rather than drive out of the area. The cinema, along with the restaurants and cafes, would be a real boost to the local economy and we hope that we can start work on the complex in the new year.” If the plans are approved by councillors, 40 jobs could be created and work would start in the spring for opening in September 2015.

Starbucks drawn into ‘gutter oil’ scandal: Starbucks has been drawn into the “gutter oil” scandal, which erupted after a Taiwan-based supplier was accused of buying at least 240 tonnes of gutter oil – recycled from kitchen waste, by-products from leather processing plants and offal from slaughterhouses – from an unlicensed factory. This week it was learned that one of Hong Kong’s biggest bakers, Maxim’s Group, had been using the alleged gutter oil, purchased from a Hong Kong customer of the Taiwan supplier, for the past three years to make the popular local product pineapple buns. Some of those buns were sold to two Starbucks shops, one in Hong Kong itself and the other in Kowloon. The scandal was uncovered on 1 September when police raided the unlicensed factory in Taiwan. Wilson Chau Cheuk-fung, a lecturer in applied science at the Institute of Vocational Education in Hong Kong, told the South China Morning Post that gutter oil may contain a cancer-causing chemical. “It’s hard to tell how much of that chemical [would be needed to] cause cancer,” he said. “But what is also important is that gutter oil often contains metal contaminants. That can damage your nervous system even in the short term.”

Dark Star seeks worthy causes: The Dark Star Foundation, created by the Partridge Green, Sussex-based brewer Dark Star, is seeking worthy causes to apply for funding. Created to “support and Inspire” by working alongside, and helping, good causes, the foundation aims to give a helping hand to local charities and organisations, with funds raised through the brewery shop, donations from those attending brewery tours, and a series of fundraising events including “Spin Up in a Brewery” and Hopfest. In 2013, the Foundation supported Chestnut Tree House, the Dame Vera Lynn Trust, Ashurst Village Hall, Age UK Horsham, 4Sight, Sussex Sailabilty and the Sussex Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus.

Eccentric hotel brand opens third site in London: The Artist Residence hotel brand, which refers to itself as operating an “eccentric bunch of fun and friendly small hotels” and has shabby chic decor and furnishings, has opened a ten-bedroom site in Pimlico, South West London. The company operates a 24-bedroom site in Regency Square, Brighton that also houses the Cocktail Shack cocktail bar, and the 64 Degrees restaurant in Meeting House Lane Brighton. Its site in Penzance, Cornwall has 18 bedrooms. A restaurant and cocktail lounge using the 64 Degrees brand will be added in the near future to the Pimlico site, based on the Brighton concept.

Company of Cooks hires Cirrus Inns staffer as culinary director: The contract caterer Company of Cooks has hired the former Cirrus Inns executive chef Helena Puolakka as its new culinary director. Puolakka joins the caterer, which operates at four London sites, the Royal Opera House, the National Portrait Gallery, the Southbank Centre and the Royal Academy, and the RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey, after 18 months with Cirrus. Her previous experience includes being executive chef at Skylon for D&D Restaurants and head chef at Harvey Nichols’ Fifth Floor restaurant and cafe in London. She also headed the kitchen at Pierre Koffmann’s three-Michelin starred restaurant Tante Claire and spent time with Pierre Gagnaire in Paris. Company of Cooks’ founder, Mike Lucy, said: “I’ve known Helena for many years, I admire her immensely and it’s taken me a couple of go’s to bring her into our team for our plans ahead.”

Greene King pub planned for new Reading development: A new Greene King pub, expected to be one of its Hungry Horse branded pub restaurants, has been included in an £11m, 40,000 sq ft retail and leisure development in Reading. Jansons Property has been granted detailed planning consent for the redevelopment of an empty office building next to Morrisons at 350 Basingstoke Road, Whitley, Reading. New tenants will include an Aldi store, Pure Gym and the 7,000 sq ft Greene King pub. Work on the three-acre site is due to start in January and be completed by autumn 2015. Greene King already has three Hungry Horse pubs locally, the George and Dragon in Bath Road, the Six Bells at Shinfield and the Wee Waif at Twyford.

Stonegate Pub Company sells Leytonstone pub: Stonegate Pub Company has sold the landmark Heathcote Arms in Grove Green Road, Leytonstone, East London. Stonegate has declined to reveal who it has been sold to. A spokeswoman for Stonegate told the local newspaper: “Where possible, employees will be offered roles across other businesses operated by Stonegate Pub Company. The management would like to thank all their loyal customers over the years.”

Star Pubs & Bars to start major spend on pub whose fate was raised in the House of Commons: Planning permission has been granted to Star Pubs & Bars for a complete and sympathetic refurbishment of the White Bull at Gisburn, Lancashire, the sole village pub, after two applications and the intervention of the local MP, Nigel Evans, who raised the matter in the House of Commons. Building work is planned to commence on 6 October, with the pub scheduled to re-open mid November, a year after closing. Star Pubs & Bars will be spending £300,000 on the refurbishment of the Grade II listed pub with a further £80,000 spent by new lessees on fixtures and fittings. Chris Moore, property and strategy director at Star Pubs & Bars, said: “We’re delighted that building work can now commence on the White Bull at Gisburn and that it can be once again used by the community. We have worked closely with Ribble Valley planning and conservation officers to ensure the pub retains its wonderful character whilst introducing changes to enable it to trade effectively and offer great food and accommodation as well as a wonderful venue for functions.”

Bombay Sapphire Distillery visitors’ centre moves closer to opening: The visitors’ centre at the new Bombay Sapphire gin distillery at Laverstoke Mill, Hampshire has moved a step closer to opening with the launch of its website. The distillery, set up in a former paper mill, is due to open to the public on 1 October, when visitors will be able to discover how gin is made and find out more about the ingredients used. The ten botanicals used in Bombay Sapphire gin, including liquorice, coriander and grains of paradise, will be displayed in the Glasshouses and Botanical Dry Room. Visitors can then see the vapour infusion distillation process in the Dakin Still House. The experience ends in the Mill Bar, where every visitor will be given a drink to enjoy beside the River Test. Dan Smith, sales, marketing and events manager for Bombay Sapphire, which is owned by Bacardi said: “The distillery website is our shop window – a chance for us to show exactly what visitors will experience when we open to the public on 1 October.”

Amber Taverns reports Ebitda hits £7.61m: Amber Taverns, the community pub operator, has reported that Ebitda hit £7.61m in the year ended 2 February 2014, up from £6.76m the year before. Turnover rose 11% to £36.87m from £33.19m in 2013. The company had 93 pubs at the year-end, up from 82 the year before. It is due to open it 100th pub next month. Pre-tax profit rose to £4.54m from £3.87m the year before. Operating profit before exceptional items was £5.58m (2013: £5.42m), an increase of 3%. The company said: “Following the decision in January 2012 to adopt a revaluation policy, a review of 14 additional sites was undertaken and this has generate an increase in the reserve to £17.7m (2013: £14.9m). The company will continue to adopt this policy of revaluation of its freehold property. Following an impairment review it was agreed that an impairment charge of £100,000 was required at the year-end.” The net book value of its assets is currently £61.39m, made up of £45.5m of freehold property and £6.9m of fixtures and fittings. In May this year, Amber Taverns was sold by Legal and General Capital for £80m to MXP Partners. The new owner, a founding shareholder of the business, backed the existing management team, led by Clive Preston, James Baer and Bryan Wardman. BlueBay Asset Management’s Direct Lending Fund also provided finance for the transaction. Under the new deal, Amber is looking to continue to grow the size of its estate across northern England, the Midlands and Wales over the coming years. The company says its policy typically is to acquire distressed and failing freehold pubs and revitalise them through a combination of investment and a consistent value for money offer, “transforming previously unloved sites into viable and sustainable businesses at the very heart of their local community”.

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