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Mon 2nd Feb 2015 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Scottish brewers welcome tied pub ruling for Scotland: A group of Scottish brewers and organisations – including Tennent Caledonian Breweries, Harviestoun Craft Beers, Fyne Ales, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association and others – have welcomed confirmation that the Scottish Government has the power to legislate in relation to tied pubs and their landlords. The House of Lords offered clarity on the issue during a flurry of clauses proposed in the final hours of the Lords’ Grand Committee stage last week. Within the amendments, it now explicitly states that tied pubs are a devolved matter. Previously, unclear drafts would have potentially complicated or delayed the prospect of legislative change in Scotland. This development now leaves the road clear for the Scottish Government to create its own legislation if it wants. “We need to protect our Scottish publicans in the same way that Westminster is doing for the licensed trade south of the border – and we’ve got to move forward at pace. If we fail to do so, it could be catastrophic for our home-grown industry,” said John Gilligan, of Tennent Caledonian Breweries.“The assertion from the House of Lords that this issue is a devolved matter is very encouraging. It gives us the reassurance that Scotland has the freedom to ensure our industry is not penalised compared with the rest of the UK. It’s also excellent to have had confirmation from the Scottish Government that they are open to legislative change and are listening seriously to the argument – an argument that we believe is extremely compelling. Tenants tied to pubco deals – deals orchestrated by massive multinational companies – are under a tremendous amount of pressure. Generally tenants make less profit and their pubs close at a higher rate than the industry at large. We’d like to thank those peers, MPs and MSPs who have been supportive so far and we look forward to working with the Scottish Government as closely as possible on this critical issue.”
 

Industry News:

Full Propel Multi Club Conference speaker programme unveiled: The full speaker schedule for the Propel Multi Club Conference on Thursday 12 March at the Lancaster Hotel, London has been unveiled. CLICK HERE to see the full programme and timings. Operators of multi-site companies can claim two free places by emailing adam.dickinson@propelinfo.com
 
Study – drink beer to ward off Alzheimer’s: Scientists have reported that a compound in beer hops can protect the brain. Hops have been used for centuries in Chinese medicine. An ingredient in beer hops, xanthohumol (also known as Xn) has been shown to protect the brains of mice from cell damage. Reporting in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Jianguo Fang said that Xn was shown not only to fight free radicals but also jump-start signaling and protect cells from neurotoxicity. Neuronal cells – which are in the brain, spine and nerves – are in limited supply over one’s lifetime and especially susceptible to stress. This stress is thought to be one of the ways brain-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s begin.
 
US quick service restaurants could survive $15 minimum wage says study: An increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 (£9.94) would cost fast-food restaurants in the United States an additional $30.7bn in extra wages, according to a study by a group of economists at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. However, the study said, restaurants could survive such a rise without sacrificing jobs or profits, through a combination of higher prices, higher sales and lower worker turnover. The study analysed a scenario in which the federal minimum moves from the current $7.25 an hour to $10.50 an hour within a year, and to $15 an hour three years later. The total wage bill would go up almost 60% in that scenario, according to the study, from $52.3bn to $83bn. That increase would represent 14.2% of the $232bn in QSR industry sales in 2013. But the study also says the industry would save a total of $6.7bn through lower employee turnover. A $15 minimum wage would mean a 29 percentage point reduction in turnover from the QSR sector’s general 120% turnover rate, it said. About 24% of QSR sales go to labour costs.
 
New research – restaurants without loyalty schemes miss out on doubling chances of a customer purchase: Restaurants that have not yet implemented loyalty schemes could be missing out on the prospect of doubling the likelihood of a customer purchase. According to a study by data-driven marketing and loyalty platform provider Coniq, focusing on loyalty habits within the food and beverage sector, customers are twice as likely to buy something if they hold a loyalty card – yet many restaurants still don’t have schemes in place. Coniq chief executive Ben Chesser said: “We have certainly seen amongst our clients the great results that can be achieved through smart implementation of loyalty schemes, alongside the willingness of clients in this sector to be creative in their approach. However, there are still a vast amount of restaurants simply not making the most of this tactic and missing out hugely on the significant benefits to be had.” The study findings also highlighted the importance of personalisation, a key component in driving loyalty and engagement. The study also revealed that male diners enjoy being loyal to bars and pubs and are twice as likely to redeem drink offers than females. Whilst the most favoured method of communication for loyalty card holders was found to be email, with 74% preferring this, mobile was close behind, at 73%, highlighting the importance of mobile as an increasingly effective channel for loyalty.

Company News:

Barworks set to double underlying Ebitda after diversifying estate: London bar and restaurant operator Barworks is set to double its underlying Ebitda in the current financial year after re-investing the proceeds from the sale of its Hoxton Square and Kitchen site in 2013. The company opened two additional sites in the year to 30 June 2014 producing record turnover of £8,734,222 compared to £6,983,560 the year before (when the Hoxton turnover is taken out of overall turnover). The current year will be boosted by a full-year’s trading at sites in Farringdon and The Angel, which opened in February and May 2014 respectively. Gross profit was £5,964,189 compared to £5,849,986 the year before. Barworks finance director Scott Chillery told Propel: “Barworks received much praise for our Financial Year 2013 results, which were inflated following the sale of Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen. Underlying Ebitda in Financial Year 2013 was actually the same as in Financial Year 2012. The cash from the Hoxton deal has been put to use in Financial Year 2014 with two new bar openings and the results reflect the costs of creating those bars virtually from scratch. Underlying Ebitda in Financial Year 2014 has dropped 27% from Financial Year 2013 as a result of the Hoxton sale and subsequent re-investment. However, by the start of the current Financial Year 2015 we had a more diversified group, which has produced record results in the six months to December 2014. Underlying Ebitda for Financial Year 2015 is set to double that of Financial Year 2014, but more importantly, will be 40% higher than Financial Year 2013 when Hoxton was still in the group.” An increase in net operating expenses of more than £2m with two new openings to £6,135,414 from £4,039,908 meant the company lost £184,602 in the year compared to a profit of £1,782,003 the year before.

Brewhouse & Kitchen set for seven sites by middle of the year: Brewhouse & Kitchen, the EIS artisan micro-brewery company led by Kris Gumbrell and Simon Bunn, is aiming to have seven sites up and running by the middle of the year. Brewhouse & Kitchen Poole opens on Monday 16 February, adding to an estate that includes Islington, Dorchester and Portsmouth. Another Brewhouse & Kitchen is due to open in Highbury, North London shortly, and the company is also planning to open in Bristol in March. Speaking at the company’s outlet in Angel, North London, Gumbrell said contracts had just been exchanged on another site in the south of England, though he declined to say exactly where. The Angel, Highbury and Bristol venues were all acquired last year from the Black Pub Company. Gumbrell also revealed that the company had sold £20,000 of “brewing experiences” at Christmas, where customers pay between £75 and £100 a time to visit an on-site brewery learning how to brew Brewhouse and Kitchen beer. Bunn told Propel: “Our business has real momentum and the simple formula of good home-cooked favourites, ‘made here’ beer and a warm welcome is proving very popular with our customers.”
 
Collapsed pub company faces challenge over alleged debt: Two property investment vehicles for which collapsed Maclay Group ran pubs claim they are owed around £480,000, The Herald Scotland has reported. The allegations appear in letters received by shareholders in Thistle Pub Company II and Thistle Pub Company III – two Enterprise Investment Schemes (EIS). The schemes were set up by Maclay to raise money to buy pubs, while offering a tax efficient way for people to invest. Maclay took a fee from each EIS in return for managing the pubs under its Maclay Inns subsidiary. Thistle II, which owns four pubs, transferred the management of the units to LT Management Services in August, while the seven owned by Thistle III switched to LT on administration. This left Maclay Group with a portfolio of 15 company-owned pubs and some in a joint venture with C&C Group, owner of Tennent’s Lager, at the time it went into administration. In a letter to shareholders in Thistle II, it is alleged that an investigation by external auditors revealed investors are owed around £150,000 by the Maclay Group. Chairman Roy Summers said: “A further investigation assisted by our external auditors have revealed more indebtedness potentially arising from overstating of income, incorrect allocations to the company of fixed assets belonging to other Maclay companies and other accounting errors. In consequence the management charges rendered by Maclay Inns Limited were overstated.” The chairman of Thistle III, Alan Stewart, has told investors that every step will be taken to ensure the £330,000 it believes it is due from Maclay will be recovered, as well as costs.
 
Second Joe’s Kitchen & Bar to launch in March: The second Joe’s Southern Kitchen & Bar is launching in March 2015, occupying a prime location on Kentish Town Road. The first site launched in Covent Garden in 2013. Restaurant operations manager Jim Robertson said: “After the success of Joe’s in Covent Garden, we decided it was time to open up our kitchen to more Londoners and a new venue in Kentish Town was an obvious choice for us. The restaurant scene in NW5 is about to explode and we want to be a part of it.” Spread over two floors and occupying the former site of Kentish Canteen, the new Joe’s will feature a 90 cover ground floor restaurant and outside 20 cover BBQ and dining space, along with a basement bar called Jailbird.
 
Zecol plans 350-cover bar-kitchen in basement of Manchester’s Albert Hall: Zecol, the entertainment company founded by Joel Wilkinson, is planning a huge bar-kitchen in the former Brannigans bar at the Albert Hall, a disused Wesleyan chapel on Peter Street, Manchester. Zecol acquired the Albert Hall, which had been largely disused for 60 years, in 2012 and announced plans to turn it into an events and live music venue, restaurant. It opened as a music venue in 2014, winning The Manchester Evening News CityLife Awards Best Music Venue title earlier this month. Meanwhile, according to the Manchester Confidential website, the basement of the hall, most recently occupied by Brannigan’s Bar which closed in 2011 and has remained unused ever since, is being transformed into a 350-cover bar-kitchen. Zecol also runs two bourbon bars and restaurants under the Trof fascia in the Northern Quarter and Fallowfields, a live music venue and cafe bar called the Deaf Institute close to Manchester University off Oxford Road, and a multi purpose restaurant and event space called Gorilla on Whitworth Street West.
 
MW Eat to open Masala Grill in Chelsea after Chutney Mary move: MW Eat, the operator of the Masala World chain, is to open an outlet called Masala Grill on the current Chutney Mary site in Chelsea after Chutney Mary moves to Mayfair. Chutney Mary, which opened in 1990, will close on 8 February to relocate to 73 St James’s Street, where it will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It will have a bar for 50-60 with “informal” menus, a main dining room that will seat 110, and two private dining rooms. It will be replaced by Masala Grill, which will open in late March after a refurbishment. The new operation is described as informal, with a menu that will include a range of grills, “exciting” street food, and some “well-chosen” curries. It will be MW Eat’s 11th outlet in London, after Chutney Mary, Amaya, Veeraswamy and seven Masala Zone restaurants from Earl’s Court to Islington. 
 
Maurizio Salvi takes it to three in Manchester: The Italian restaurateur Maurizio Salvi, who already runs Salvi’s Mozzarella Bar at the Corn Exchange in Manchester and Salvi’s Cucina on John Dalton Street in the city, is to open a Neapolitan-style rosticceria two doors down from the Cucina. Salvi’s Rosticceria will sell fried pizza, arancinas, polpette (meatballs), cannelloni, lasagne, focaccia, Neapolitan panini, paidina, rustici (little fried parcels with hams, ricotta and so on with fillings), calzone fritti, croquettes, zeppole (fried seaweed in batter), pizza, pasta, and “lots of specials too” to eat in or take away. In the evening the premises will turn into an Italian aperitivo bar. The venue, which is due to open next month, was formerly the MUG coffee shop, which closed after less than four months of trading.

Provenance Inns plans on expanding hotels side of the business: Provenance Inns, the seven-strong pub group owned by Michael Ibbotson and Chris Blundell, is looking to base future expansion on buildings with accommodation options. Last year, the group launched its first boutique hotel, the West Park, in Harrogate, after a multi-million pound 18-month refurbishment. The West Park has been transformed from the original Victorian coach house into a 25-bedroom and suite hotel with a restaurant and bar overlooking the Harrogate Stray in the centre of town. “West Park Hotel has been our largest investment and is the first hotel we have done,” Ibbotson said. “It was a significant multi-million pound investment.” Meanwhile at The Black Bull in Moulton, there are 16 bedrooms being built. “That’s a major thing for us and it is now more of a hotel than a pub. It’s very exciting and will be ready for summer,” Ibbotson said. “We’re planning on expanding the hotel side of the business. We’re looking at things all the time for investment.”

Lawn Club in Manchester closed for three months: The Lawn Club, the bar and restaurant run by Fluid Bars alongside the lawns at Spinningfields in Manchester, is to close until April while a nearby tower block, Quay House, is demolished. Plans show that the venue will be cut in length to make room for building work. The reshaped venue will take a 90-degree turn towards the Haig Club (formerly Long Bar) and spread over the third lawn. The new venue will include an outside decking area with additional seating, all-weather parasols and an outside barbecue, ready for the summer months. There will also be a new private dining area and extended capacity in both the bar and restaurant. The Lawn Club is a joint venture between Fluid Bars and the Spinningfields developer, Allied London. It initially opened as In Bloom in summer 2013.
 
Restaurant co-owned by footballer Steven Gerrard to close: The Warehouse restaurant in Southport, Lancashire, co-owned by the captain of Liverpool Football Club, Steven Gerard, is to close after 20 years. It was opened in 1995 by Southport businessman Paul Adams, who also owns a boutique hotel, the Vincent, in Lord Street, Southport, and Gerrard became co-owner in 2010. When the Warehouse closes in April, staff at the restaurant will be employed at a new venture, the Vincent cafe and cocktail bar, that Adams is opening in Exchange Flags in Liverpool city centre, with Adams now apparently wanting to concentrate his energy on developing the Vincent brand. Adams told The Liverpool Echo: “The Warehouse Restaurant has gained many loyal followers over nearly the last 20 years and we have been grateful for the continued support of the people of Southport. However, we have made the decision to focus on developing other business areas. Fortunately, we are in a position to be able to offer all of our valued staff roles at other venues within our businesses.”

Inns of Cornwall & Devon takes over Plymouth’s Waterfront: Inns of Cornwall & Devon, the five-strong hotel and pub group run by John Milan and Steve Bellman, has added a sixth outlet to its portfolio, taking over The Waterfront pub and restaurant at West Hoe in Plymouth. St Austell Brewery, which leases the pub from Plymouth Council had been trying to find a new landlord since the pub closed in January last year. Devastating winter storms had left the building badly damaged, and huge waves smashed windows, washed away outdoor furniture and caused damage to the interior. Milan and Bellman will be the pub’s sixth tenants in six years. Steve Bowen pulled out in 2009 blaming the recession and a poor summer and said he was £130,000 out of pocket. It closed again in January 2012 when Plymouth businessman Chris Evans pulled out after pumping a “sizeable” amount of cash into the venture since taking the lease in 2010. Singer Inns and Taverns, run by Devon couple Dean and Simone Singer, took on the lease in March 2012, but handed back the keys to St Austell in January 2014. According to the pub’s Facebook page it is now being completely refurbished and will offer “quality beers and wines and use fresh, local seasonal produce in its menus”. Inns of Cornwall & Devon also runs The Pandora Inn at Restronguet Creek, near Falmouth, The Mill on the Exe in Exeter, The Hops Inn & Hotel near Clovelly, Devon, The Norway Inn, Truro and Tricky’s at The Tolgus Inn, Redruth.
 
Inglenook Inns reopens Punch pub after £200,000 refurb: The Punch Taverns-owned Pickering Arms in Thewall, near Warrington, is due to reopen this week after a £200,000 investment by its new operator Inglenook & Taverns. The pub is Inglenooks 18th outlet, the estate stretching from Middlesbrough and Hull in the east across the north of England to Preston and Wilmslow in the west, with many leased from Punch. James Waddington, managing director of Inglenook Inns & Taverns, said: “The pub looks fantastic. I can’t believe the transformation. The villagers are full of enthusiasm and can’t wait to see The Pickering Arms open its doors again. We wanted to create a family-friendly pub, which is truly pivotal to the community, and I’m confident we’ve succeeded. Most of all, we want The Pickering Arms to be a real locals’ local.”

El Gato Negro’s move to Manchester falls through: The move by Simon Shaw’s Michelin-Bibbed El Gato Negro tapas bar in Ripponden, Yorkshire to a site formerly occupied by Raymond Blanc’s Brasserie Blanc chain in Manchester has fallen through over what are described as “issues with the landlord”. El Gato Negro’s current lease in Ripponden expires in 2015 and the tapas restaurant will be moving its entire operation to units five and six in the walkway joining King Street and Chapel Walks in Manchester city centre, which have been empty since Blanc closed his outlet in 2010. Shaw was reportedly eyeing the former Room restaurant site on King Street in Manchester, which fell vacant last month when the Harrogate-based HRN Group closed it without warning. However, last week it was announced that Tim Bacon’s Living Ventures Group, the Tim Bacon-led business, has acquired the Room Restaurant site to open a Pan Asian restaurant under the name Grand Pacific. Living Ventures already operates a cafe bar called Grand Pacific behind the Armani store on The Avenue in Spinningfields, Manchester. The doors of the new venture are expected to be open by October. It is believed Shaw lost out because Living Ventures already has a relationship with the landlord of the Room site, Bruntwood, from which it leases a number of venues already. However, Shaw told the website Manchester Confidential that “El Gato Negro are still 100% committed to coming to Manchester this summer” and he had been offered “a number of different sites” since the first deal fell through. El Gato Negro is moving from Ripponden because its lease runs out this year.

Shepherd Neame signs exclusive bottle deal: Kent brewer and retailer Shepherd Neame has signed a deal with leading online retailer and wholesaler, The Bottle Shop, giving it exclusive rights to import limited edition barrel-aged beers from the Boston Beer Company and the brewery’s merchandise. The Kent brewery currently brews Samuel Adams Boston Lager under licence in the UK and this new agreement will see beers imported from the leading American craft brewer’s Barrel Room Collection and made available in the UK for the first time. Shepherd Neame sales and marketing director, Graeme Craig, said: “Samuel Adams Boston Lager has exploded since we began brewing it here in early 2012. We’ve been able to complement its success by importing a select range of the Boston Beer Company’s seasonal beers. It’s great that we can now take that success one step further by working with The Bottle Shop; a specialist retailer whose customers appreciate high quality, niche products like the Barrel Room Collection.”
 
Ramsay’s gastro-pub court battle a warning to family businesses, say legal experts: The court case last month when the chef-entrepreneur Ramsay accused his father-in-law of forging his signature on a document which made Ramsay the personal guarantor for the £640,000 annual rent of the York & Albany pub near Regent’s Park should serve as a warning for anyone setting up a business with a family member, legal experts have said. Ramsay lost the case brought against him for recovery of the rent, and was also ordered to pay legal costs estimated to be around £1m. The president of the Law Society, Andrew Caplen, said people may feel a false sense of security when investing their time and money with a family member and either ignore or not consider the pitfalls. He said the Gordon Ramsay case was a high profile example of what can happen if relationships fray, as they often do when there are large sums of money – and livelihoods – at stake. When you involve share-holders outside of the family, this can introduce further complications. Zee Hussain, a specialist in business law at Colemans-ctts advised anyone considering such a venture to take expert legal advice before investing. He said: “Things that need to be clear from the start include: who is making what decisions, what are the roles and responsibilities, and what can people expect to receive for their time and effort. Familiarity can breed contempt, and close family members will often bring a lot of emotional involvement to a business rather than looking at a situation from a purely commercial point of view.”
 
SSP raises £300,000 for Cancer Research UK: Transport hub foodservice specialist SSP UK has raised £300,000 for leading charity Cancer Research UK following a year of fund raising activities across the business. This means it is exceeding its target to raise £250,000 for the charity each year for three years. Simon Smith, chief executive for SSP UK, said: “I’m very proud of this fantastic achievement by our teams in the UK and Ireland. It is down to the hard work, (from organising bucket collections to bake sales, quiz nights to sponsored cycling), of everyone across the company. All this amazing effort will make a big difference in the fight against cancer. The teams are already planning a variety of events for 2015 and we have already pledged to raise £250,000 during the year ahead.”
 
Tough task ahead for Englishman Easterbrook to turn around McDonald’s, say experts: Steve Easterbrook, the former McDonald’s UK boss who takes over as global chief executive of the burger chain on 1 March, will have a tough task to turn the company around after struggles with falling like-for-like sales in the United States. Sales in the US fell 1.1% last year, the first time that figure has fallen in at least 30 years, while like-for-like customer numbers fell 4.1% for the year. The news late last week that McDonald’s current chief executive, Don Thompson, would be retiring after 25 years with the brand came after rumours for months that Thompson’s job was on the line. Mark Kalinowski, an analyst at Janney Capital Markets in the US, told the magazine Nation’s Restaurant News that Thompson’s retirement was a sign that the company’s board was impatient with the chain’s plan. “The fact that the board was willing to act here hints they’re less patient, and they should be less patient with what’s going on here,” Kalinowski said. “They’ve underperformed their peers. They’ve underperformed the general market. By any meaningful measure, it’s been a rough go for them. They need a change agent.” Kalonowski said there were now question marks over the customisable Create Your Taste programme, one of a wide array of changes that Thompson and McDonald’s US president, Mike Andres, have announced in recent months as part of plans to turn sales around. Other plans include cutting menu items, adding customer-facing technology and giving regions more control over marketing and menu items to satisfy local tastes.
 
Giraffe to open three more sites this spring: Three new Giraffe restaurants will open this Spring, based at Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet, Tesco Ipswich Martlesham Extra, both set to launch at the beginning of March, and the third on Glasgow’s 1 West Regent Street development planned for April. The news follows a recent opening with landlord McArthur Glen in Swindon Designer Outlet last December, Giraffe’s second restaurant in Swindon. Andrew Jacobs, co-founder and managing director of Giraffe Concepts said: “The Swindon Designer Outlet marked our first ever launch with McArthur Glen and based on performance, we’re very optimistic for Cheshire Oaks come March. Our second site in Glasgow on the high street is also a great location, given its proximity to Buchanan Street and the nearby stations. We are on course to pursue our pipeline of five to ten sites this year.” Giraffe will create approximately 40 new jobs per opening, around 120 in total.

Moontide boss ‘relaxed’ about unlocked fridges full of beer open to the public: Nigel Owen, boss of Moontide, the company that runs three craft beer outlets in London, has told fellow pub operators he was “relaxed” about having unlocked fridges full of expensive bottles on the customer side of the bar at his Mother Kelly’s combined craft beer bar and off-licence, which opened in a railway arch near Bethnal Green last year. Owen, whose other outlets are Simon the Tanner in Bermondsey and The Queen’s Head at King’s Cross, indicated it was more important for customers to be able to access and choose easily from the large selection of beers in the tall glass-doored fridges that line one long wall of the bar, even though some of the beers cost £14 and more. “It’s important to trust people,” he said. Owen revealed that he had originally planned to sell cask beer at the venue, in Paradise Row, which has 23 craft keg beer taps, but decided there was not enough room for proper stillage in the space available behind the bar. However, he said, he intended selling cask beer during a festival planned for later this year at the venue. He also revealed his frustration at the length of time it had taken in negotiations with his landlord, Network Rail. “I thought when we found the place we would be able to be in within weeks,” he said. “It took six months – it’s amazing how slow it was when you consider that Network Rail has 50,000 railway arches to let out in London.”
 
Council ‘perfectly OK’ about beer bottle vending machine: Hackney Council licensing officials happily gave the nod to a beer bottle vending machine at The Fox in Haggerston, North London, licensee Joseph Ryan revealed to fellow operators last week. Ryan bought the Japanese-made unit for £1,500 on eBay and put it at the front of his pub, filled with a selection of 40 different craft bottled beers. The machine keeps the beers, which cost upwards of £4 a time, at 6.6C, and a mechanical arm delivers the bottle gently to a slot at the front, rather than dropping it with a clatter. Speaking to a party of more than 40 operators taking part in Propel Info’s Craft Beer Retail Study Tour, Ryan said a council officer he contacted said he was perfectly fine with the idea, and the machine had brought the pub considerable publicity on Facebook and Twitter. It is believed to be the only one of its kind in the UK. 
 
Marston’s Inns reopens King’s Head, Beverley with wood-fired pizza oven: East Yorkshire after a £450,000 refurbishment that includes the installation of a wood-fired pizza oven. Other new features include cocktail stations, and extra outside dining facilities. General manager Matt Clapison said: “People can come and see what we have been doing for the past four weeks. There has already been a massive response on Facebook, and we have picked up an additional 800 new followers. I am really pleased with the outcome – it is what I have been striving towards for such a long time.” The pub’s transformation has been carried out by the build and refurbishment company Concorde BGW. New seating has been installed and historic paintings and pictures of the pub have been added to the walls for decoration. A wider range of food and drink will also be available. Clapison added: “The biggest change is that we now have a pizza kitchen, which has transformed the area and has given us a real restaurant focus. We were looking at offering our customers something different and wood-fired pizzas are extremely popular across the country.”
 
Wetherspoon faces legal challenge in bid to turn North Walsham town hall into a pub: JD Wetherspoon is facing a potential legal challenge in its bid to open a pub in the town hall in North Walsham, Norfolk (population: 12,463). The building is owned by North Norfolk District Council and occupied by North Walsham Town Council, which has been given 12 months notice from the district council to leave the building by 31 December this year. However, town councillors are angry that none of the money from the sale of the building to Wetherspoon is likely to come back to the town, and the town council and the other groups that use the building currently, the Norfolk Citizens Advice Bureau and North Norfolk Community Transport, will have to find new accommodation at their own expense. Town councillors are now looking at mounting a legal challenge to the sale of the building. Town and district councillor Eric Seward said: “I’m pleased Wetherspoon has shown confidence in the town but I’m against the town council and community transport group and CAB being thrown out onto the street and the council tax payer picking up the tab when the district council is picking up the huge capital receipt and refusing for it to come back to the town.” North Norfolk District Council’s deputy leader, Rhodri Oliver, said: “I believe that a Wetherspoons represents an incredible opportunity for North Walsham. The district council is committed to delivering this £1.5m investment for the benefit of local residents and hopes that the town council continue to work constructively to bring this about.”

Antic secures five freeholds, plans six openings: A new funding package has been agreed that will keep five core sites inside the Antic London estate, in a deal involving the investment fund Downing, Antic, Barclays and several Downing-managed VCTs. Steven Kenee, head of licensed leisure at Downing, said: “It’s been a long and complex process but I am incredibly pleased to announce that it is now complete. The five sites is question hold huge emotional and financial importance to the estate and we are delighted that a deal was agreed that allows them to remain in the family. As well as a unnerving ability to identify potential in sites or locations that others fail to see, the Antic London team have a fantastic track record of delivering really great pubs that capture the hearts and minds of the neighbourhoods they sit in and generate huge levels of customer loyalty and support.” Mark Crowther, chairman of Downing’s Antic London business, said: “They are all iconic freehold sites and several now have the opportunity for further investment, with rooms planned for three of the pubs.” Crowther, who is also chief executive of the Liberation Group, added: “We are grateful for the ongoing support of Downing and their investors, along with the bank, for providing the funds to make this transaction happen, as we look to grow with further freehold acquisitions in the coming years.” Over the past five years, the Downing-funded Antic London estate has grown from three to 25 sites, with another six sites due to open in the first half of 2015. Of these sites, 26 are freehold. This is in addition to a dozen leasehold sites that have been self-funded by the management team. Total sales for the Downing-funded sites grew by 20% over the 12 months to 31 December, with like-for-like sales growth of 8.8%. The Downing VCT and EIS funds that had funded the initial freehold acquisitions had matured. However, Antic said, the new funding package not only allows the retention of five core sites but also creates a springboard for further growth.

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