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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Thu 5th Mar 2015 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Luminar in advanced talks with two more comedy club companies as it invests in entertainment: Nightclub company Luminar is in advanced talks with two more comedy club companies, Manfords and Just a Tonic, as it boosts investment in entertainment. The company has increased its spend on entertainment – top DJs, live music and personal appearances by celebrities – by 50% to £1.8m a year to strengthen weekend business. It already hosts four Jongleurs comedy clubs at its venues and is looking to introduce comedy club nights to a further six to eight nightclubs. Chief executive Peter Marks told Propel the company has found its Friday and Saturday nights are getting busier whilst week-day nights are weakening slightly – Friday night footfall is up between five and seven per cent whilst Saturday volumes have increased by four to five per cent. Marks said: “People don’t go out to catch-up any more – they go out for entertainment and dancing. We are even seeing more students on a Friday night than ever before – we know this because turnover drops by 20% on Friday evenings in the third week of June when the summer term ends.” Luminar has now employed a bookings manager to oversee the company’s entertainment schedule. Marks reported that weekend footfall is also being driven by increasingly effective use of social media – its 220,000 strong Twitter community has doubled in a year. Similar growth has been seen with its Facebook community, now 995,000-strong, and its e-mail address database, which now has 250,000 names. A combination of demand for special occasion going out and better social media traction has seen the company increase weekly sales of pre-booked VIP booths eight-fold to 337 last week. Meanwhile, Marks said a decision would be made within the next month on whether the company will retain the Chicago Rock brand name for expansion – the company acquired eight-strong Chicago Rock last November. “There’s an opportunity to grow another leg of the business. Chicago Rock traded in 64 towns at on stage,” said Marks. “There’s an opportunity to re-enter half of these – and we’re looking at whether we retain the name as well as looking at the right operating template.”

Industry News:

Host of companies sign up for Propel Social Media Masterclass: A host of leading sector companies have signed up for the Propel Social Media Masterclass being held in partnership with Digital Blonde’s Karen Fewell. They include: Bill’s Restaurants, JD Wetherspoon, Admiral Taverns, Young’s, Camerons, Ignite Group, Hall & Woodhouse, Loungers, Luminar, Burning Night Group, TCG Management Services, Chilled Pubs, Hickory’s Smokehouse, Star Pubs & Bars, Flying Pig & Lobster, Good Life Diner, Anglian Country Inns, Yummy Pubs, Trust Inns, PubLove, Oakman Inns and Restaurants and Bulldog Hotel Group. The Social Media Masterclass provides a comprehensive overview of how to make the best use of social media (CLICK HERE to see the programme). Tickets are £295 for ALMR members and £345 for non-members. Email to book.

US sees independent restaurant numbers fall, chains rise: There were nearly 8,000 fewer independent restaurants open in the United States in September 2014 compared to the previous year, according to the information company NPD Group. However, while the independents' numbers fell 2% from 351,433 to 343,652, the number of chain restaurants in the country rose 1%, from 383,600 to 287,312. Chains now represent 45.6% of all restaurants in the US, up from 44.6% in 2013. According to ReCount, the restaurant census that NPD conducts each spring and autumn, full-service independent restaurants were hardest hit, with outlets falling 3%, while the number of limited-service independent restaurants remained flat. Overall, the number of limited-service restaurants among both independents and chains increased 1%, led by fast-casual chain locations, NPD said. The Las Vegas area in particular saw a restaurant boom, adding 163 locations over the course of the year, a 4% increase, to 4,469 outlets.
Sussex wineries to apply for protected status: Wineries in Sussex are set to apply to the EU for protected designation of origin (PDO) status, the highest of three titles that guarantee local authenticity and origin. Jamie Everett, chief operating officer at the Rathfinny winery, one of the groups leading the campaign, said they were seeking a joint PDO status for both sparkling and still wines across the county. "We think Sussex is a great name," Everett told the FT, "a traditional old county with a lot of quality producers. If you were in a bar somewhere else in the world, you could say, can I have a glass of Sussex, please?" English wine was a growing industry, he said. "Quality-wise, we have improved massively in the last 20 years and are already holding ourselves up to international competition." The EU application, first reported in Decanter magazine and expected to be made this month, comes amid a boom for the English wine industry. The number of wineries is at a 20-year high of 135, which in 2013 produced a record 4.45m bottles. Sparkling wine accounts for two thirds of English production; still white makes up 25%, with the rest rosé or red.

Minister congratulates drinks industry on the removal of 1.3 billion units of alcohol from the market: Public Health Minister Jane Ellison has congratulated the drinks industry on its success in removing 1.3 billion units of alcohol from the UK market at an event in Parliament. Hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group, in partnership with the British Beer & Pub Association and the Portman Group, the event marked the successful initiative, which is part of the Government’s Public Health Responsibility Deal. To show the range of innovative products now available, British Beer & Pub Association members provided a selection of lower-strength alcohol beers, including Harveys R, Guinness Mid-Strength, Fosters Radler, Adnams Sole Star, Manns Brown Ale, Hook Norton Mild, Carling Zest, Carlsberg Citrus and Carlsberg Blackcurrant. Ellison said: “It’s great that the British Beer & Pub Association has made progress by removing over a billion units of alcohol from the market over two years. And by promoting house wine at a lower ABV of 12.5% as standard, a healthier option is becoming more popular and we are helping people who want to reduce their alcohol intake whilst still enjoying a drink.”

McDonald’s promises to stop selling chicken is the US treated with human antibiotics: McDonald’s has pledged to stop selling chicken treated with human antibiotics at its US units. The company also stated that it would work to curb antibiotic use in other food supplies, including beef and pork. It will also stop using an artificial growth hormone in milk, which is sold in the company’s Happy Meals. In addition, the company said it will offer low-fat milk and fat-free chocolate milk from cows not treated with the artificial growth hormone rBST. “Our customers want food that they feel great about eating – all the way from the farm to the restaurant – and these moves take a step toward better delivering on those expectations,” McDonald’s US President Mike Andres said. The move to stop serving chicken treated with antibiotics important to human medicine at its 14,000 US restaurants will happen over the next two years. McDonald’s accounts for an estimated 4% of the total chicken market in the US.

Company News:

Carluccio’s lines up second Washington site: Carluccio's, which is due to make its debut in the United States in the Alexandria area of Washington in the coming weeks, has a second location on its radar. The company has signed a lease for 4,559 sq ft at Pike & Rose, a mixed-use development which is opening in phases on Rockville Pike at Montrose Parkway, just outside Washington. Carluccio's is currently building a location at 100 King Street in Old Town Alexandria. At the time, Carluccio's group chief executive Simon Kossoff said the company aimed to open three initial locations in the region to test out three store styles: two suburban and one more urban. The urban location may be the last to come to fruition.

Soho House plans Amsterdam opening with cycle storage: Soho House, the bar, restaurant and members’ club business led by Nick Jones, is planning to continue its international expansion with a proposed opening in Amsterdam. According to the Aedes Real Estate webpage, the opening, with 79 bedrooms, will be in the Bungehuis on the Spuistraat. The Bungehuis building is currently part of the University of Amsterdam, although it was originally built in the 1930s as a trading office. Soho House Amsterdam will have a gym, a film screening room, a games room, a restaurant for members, a library and a roof terrace. The hotel rooms will be mainly used by its approximately 45,000 members world-wide. On the ground floor, open to the public, will be Cecconi’s, an Italian restaurant that originated in Venice but with sites in London, West Hollywood and Miami. In addition the ground floor will host a Spa & Wellness centre from Soho’s own concept, The Cowshed, with retail space. There will be a "large in-house bike storage". Soho House Amsterdam is currently in the preliminary design stages. Meanwhile, the Soho House Farmhouse hotel is scheduled to open in Oxfordshire in June. The hotel, in the 125-acre Great Tew Estate, will have log cabins “spread around lakes”, two larger properties for groups, the Cottage and the main farmhouse. It is expected to include a screening room, the Electric Barn, as well as a Boathouse pool and Cowshed spa. New Soho House sites are also planned in the UK for Soho, Brighton and the BBC Television Centre in West London.

More than 13 million customers entered Starbucks for Life competition: More than 13 million customers entered the Starbucks for Life competition. During the past holiday season, between 2 December 2014 and 5 January 2015, Starbucks offered 10 US customers and one in the UK the chance to win Starbucks For Life – one free beverage or food item per day from participating stores for 30 years, worth an estimated $54,000. In addition, customers who paid for their purchases using a Starbucks Card or their Starbucks mobile app were eligible to win one of 482,000 instant prizes. Over a 31 day period, more than 13 million customers entered. Said Sharon Rothstein, Starbucks global chief marketing officer. “We will continue to look for ways to delight our loyal customers through unique – and surprising – offers and experiences through our My Starbucks Rewards program.”

Faucet Inn boss to launch new concept Kupp this month: Faucet Inn boss Steve Cox is to launch his stand-alone Scandinavian-influenced cafe brand concept Kupp in Paddington on 26 March. The brand is set to launch its first venue, a 5,500 sq ft site involving a £800,000 investment, and has a strong pipeline of six more sites in the UK. Three Kupps are planned for London and four outside in the first wave of openings. Meanwhile, Cox has also secured sites in Stavanger and Oslo in Norway and Helsinki in Finland. Kupp will serve artisan drinks, provide a strong coffee offer, a grab-and-go-element and a freshly prepared menu with signature dishes inspired by Scandinavian classics.

Salt Group to launch Engawa in London: Japanese concept Engawa is to launch in London’s Ham Yard. The brand specialises in Kobe beef, the freshest of sushi and sashimi and exclusive sakes. Located in the boutique Ham Yard Village, Engawa is the first London opening from the prestigious Japan-based restaurant and bar operator, Salt Group, responsible for an array of fine dining and casual restaurants and bars in Tokyo and Osaka. The dining room seats 29 and includes stools at the pass for a view into the workings of an authentic Japanese kitchen.

Fruit + Fibres concept to launch in Liverpool: Fruit + Fibres a unique Canteen & Craft Workshop that was granted planning permission in January by Liverpool City Council, is scheduled to open later this month in the much sought-after Baltic Triangle area of the city. The project is the brainchild of Hannah Cave, whose parents ran a glass-design studio from the family home in Southport when she was growing up. In her 20s Hannah trained in furniture restoration and in recent years has been honing her specialist sewing skills by attending courses throughout the region. The workshop space will be furnished with a variety of sewing and knitting machines, available to rent by the hour, and will feature a couple of huge cutting benches so customers can work unhindered on large projects. Cave’s previous experience in catering has been limited to helping to run a soup kitchen for Liverpool’s homeless on Sunday nights, which she has done for the last 15 years. To realise her dream she turned to her friend Anthony Zausmer, the director of Posh Nosh Ventures. He told Propel: “When Hannah told me her idea I could see the potential immediately and I approached my own contacts in the area to find suitable premises. Needless to say, I was thrilled when the empty workshop unit I came up with in Norfolk Street proved to be exactly what Hannah had pictured.” Through his Posh Nosh Catering Kitchen subsidiary, Zausmer has developed a food offering which will feature many vegan and “free-from” options alongside his signature Scouse dishes. In 2012 he won Wirral Borough Council’s “Love Your Leftovers” competition with his “Scouse Meatballs” invention. Refurbishment of the premises at 67-83 Norfolk Street is currently underway, with the kitchen due for installation in the second week of March.

Mastercard partners Wagamama 'to improve convenience': Mastercard has partnered with Wagamama to bring restaurant customers what it claims will be a more convenient, quicker and fuss-free way to pay for their meals via an app on their phone. The Qkr! app with Masterpass will allow customers to pay their bill as and when they are ready. Mastercard said the benefits include convenience, meaning customers are in control of how and when they pay; simplicity – the app is easy to download and customers can register with any payment card, not just a MasterCard; and security. Wagamama is the first restaurant or retailer to offer the Qkr! app. Richard Tallboy, director of business development at Wagamama, said: “We know that the biggest area of feedback from restaurant customers is related to the speed and convenience of payment. The Qkr! with MasterPass payment app provides us with a great solution, allowing customers to control when they want to pay through a simple and secure download app. Putting them in control of paying when they are ready makes for a more relaxing dining experience.”

Camden Town Brewery surges towards £1.5m target: Camden Town Brewery in North London is surging towards its crowdfunding target of £1.5m in return for 2% of its equity through the Crowdcube platform. The company has seen more than £180,000 pledged since Sunday to hit £1,184,670 raised through 1,237 investors, around 78% of its target with 34 days left.

Marketing firms for Pret and Domino's in merger: Big Communications, which numbers Domino's Pizza among its clients, is merging with its fellow marketing business Balloon Dog, whose clients include Pret a Manger. The two will create one full-service agency to be called Bigdog, with a combined turnover of £13m, 160 staff and offices in Birmingham, London and Leicester. Both companies are already part of the Mission Marketing group. Balloon Dog's chief executive James Clifton will head the new agency, while Big Communications’ CEO, Dylan Bogg, will be chief creative officer. Clifton said: “Combining Balloon Dog’s strategic nature and Big’s creative style is an exciting move for the two agencies. Bringing the two together to form one truly creative, integrated company made perfect sense."

Cau to open in Reading by end of April: The Argentinean steak restaurant Cau is due to open its planned new outlet at the Oracle in Reading by the end of April. The 3,220 sq ft restaurant is the chain's first in a UK shopping centre. Cau, the "junior" brand in the Gaucho Holdings portfolio, is opening its latest store in Wilmslow, Cheshire on 12 March, with other openings planned in Liverpool and St Katharine's Dock, London later this year, which will take it to 12 restaurants in the UK. Its menu includes small plates such as salt and pepper squid and picada, a type of Argentinean charcuterie, as well as a selection of steaks, burgers, fish, chicken and pasta.

Bluegrass BBQ set for second outlet: Bluegrass BBQ, which opened in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire in the summer of 2013, is set for its second outlet, in Reading. The restaurant has put in a planning application to Reading Council to replace the Gurkha Square Tandoori Restaurant in Gun Street. The plans to takeover the Grade II listed building in Reading town centre include replacing the counters in the kitchen, creating a new opening to the kitchen and putting in new, easier stepped access to the restaurant. The High Wycombe restaurant, in Pauls Row, which uses smokers imported from Oklahoma, has a menu that includes pulled pork and brisket and burnt ends as well as a selection of burgers, and a deli counter selling meat-filled sandwiches and jacket potatoes.
JF Street Foods sets out revised UK strategy: JF Street Food, which until recently was known as Just Falafel, is to embark on a different strategy in the UK after closing its four outlets in London. The company decided to “close down the existing UK locations as they were created from our previous business model, branding and menu,” according to Mike Biggins, the chief operating officer. JF Street Food said it would be changing its strategy for the UK “with a new, highly experienced restaurant operator capable of rolling out our new menu, look and feel”. Biggins, who previously ran Just Falafel’s UK restaurants, said: “We are taking a much more pragmatic and patient approach to develop a fewer number of high-performing locations in the UK to establish a platform for strategic growth.” The company has closed a number of franchises across the world. It closed shops in Lebanon because of the uncertain political and economic situation. In 2011, it announced its opening in Amman, Jordan, but also closed there. The chain is now present in eight countries with 30 outlets, excluding 11 in the UAE.

Britvic revamping 'adult soft drinks' portfolio: Britvic is revamping its "adult soft drinks" portfolio and boosting its marketing to grab more of an estimated £4.125bn annual spend in soft drinks in pubs, bars and restaurants and try to deliver "exciting alternatives to alcohol". The company is concentrating on seven brands in its "adult packaged portfolio": Pepsi Max, which is getting a new glass bottle available in two sizes, 330ml, for drinking with food, and 200ml, for mixing with spirits, and a £15m promotional spend targeting Millennials through digital channels; 7Up Free, which is getting a 330ml glass bottle targeted at females "within a food-focused environment"; Lipton Ice Tea, which is being relaunched in peach flavour with 33% less sugar, and in a new 330ml bottle, for drinking with food or on its own; Ballygowan; Purdey's, which is being relaunched in 2015; V Water; and J2O, the fruit juice drink, which is getting limited edition variants and a TV and social media campaign.

McDonald’s retains former chief executive for $3m 12-month consultancy: McDonald’s has retained the services of its former chief executive Don Thompson, who stepped down on 1 March, on a 12-month consultancy, paying him a total of $3m in two instalments, one in September and another next March. His replacement, Steve Easterbrook, will receive a base salary this year of $1.1m plus bonuses equal to 160% of his salary based on the performance of the company. Thompson has also agreed to extend his non-compete with McDonald’s for 24 months. Thompson’s base salary in 2013 was $1.2m though his full pay that year was nearly $9.5m.

New hotel owners plan to open bistro: The new owners of the St Aidan Hotel at Seahouses in Northumberland, which has been sold off an asking price of £550,000, plan to start offering daytime meals and introducing a bistro, all of which will be open to the public. The hotel, situated on the front, a short walk from the harbour, with sea views out to the Farne Islands and up the coast to Bamburgh Castle was sold by John and Sue Gibson through the specialist property agent Colliers International to Robert Tait and Tegan Jade Smith. Tait and Smith plan a "brief" refurbishment of the hotel's eight en-suite bedrooms before boosting the food offer.
Douglas Jack – Wetherspoon results will be all about the margins: Numis Securities' leisure analyst Douglas Jack has forecast that JD Wetherspoon's margins will have dropped by 90bps when it announces interim results on Friday 13 March. He said: “We forecast PBT rising 2% to £38.4m, with the benefit of a 4.8% increase in LFL sales being outweighed by 90bps decline in EBIT margins (to 7.3%), resulting in average ebit per pub falling 6%, by our estimates. With management claiming that gross margins are under pressure from increased price competition from supermarkets, it appears unlikely that the downward margin trend is likely to stop. LFL sales growth slowed to 4.6% in H1 (Q1 6.3%; Q2 2.8%), partly reflecting comps becoming tougher (Q1 3.7%; Q2 6.7%; Q3 6.2%; and Q4 5.2%), largely due to the extension of food trading hours in autumn 2013. LFL sales growth should have been mostly volume-driven as JDW’s average drinks rose by only 1% according to CGA. Such a price increase would be insufficient to cover cost inflation. Margins fell 90bps in H1, to 7.3%, with Q2 down 100bps at 6.9%. This largely reflects the company not fully passing on higher increases in labour, utility and supplier costs. Management cited 'gross margins being under pressure as a result, we believe, of increased price competition from supermarkets', even though the LFL volume increases imply that prices could be increased. Management strategy is built around growing cash profits/pub, rather than preserving margins. The outcome is an increasing drinks price discount to the industry (now at 17.6%, based on CGA data), an estimated 6% decline in H1 EBIT/pub and consensus forecasts falling by 4% since 1 January 2015, versus a very slight overall increase for the peer group. Given this and an improving consumer backdrop, there could be a case for JDW testing slight price increases. Although only 11 new pubs opened in H1, JDW expects to meet its target of 30-40 new openings over the full year. Our 2015E forecast (PBT £81.2m; consensus £79.1m) assumes LFL sales rise by 4.0%, ebit margins fall 80bps and that 35 new pubs open. We are cutting our price target to 850p from 900p: the 16x P/E (8.6x EV/ebitda) rating is full, in our view, given that our/consensus assumption that margins stabilise in 2016E has started to appear optimistic."
BrewDog to host Mikkeller tap take-over in Camden: The Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog is to host a tap take-over by one of Europe’s most innovative brewers, the Danish concern Mikkeller, at its outlet in Camden, North London. The company said: “If you’re even remotely familiar with the world of beer, then Mikkeller needs no introduction. If not – then welcome to one of the driving forces of European brewing, led by ex-teacher Mikkel Borg Bjergsø; they produce some fascinating beers in some equally fascinating locations. And now, while busy doing that, Mikkel and his wife Pernille Pang have written a book – Mikkeller’s Book of Beer – and we are hosting a celebration to launch it. The launch will take place at BrewDog Camden on Thursday 19 March, and will feature not just the chance to take home a copy of Mikkel and Pernille’s words of wisdom, but will signify the start of a four-day Mikkeller tap takeover. A large slice of Copenhagen’s finest will be relocated to London, pouring from our 22 Camden taps. As if that's not all, Mikkel himself will be in attendence from 6p to 7pm on the Thursday, signing copies of his book. Given the amount and sheer range of Mikkeller beers, this event is going to be something very special indeed.”
Councillors reduce Northampton nightclub's capacity: A Northampton club has had its capacity reduced after police called for its licence to be reviewed in the wake of public disorder incidents outside the venue. The review of Academy, on the corner of Gold Street and College Street, was prompted after two occasions where police had to employ public order tactics to control clubgoers outside the venue. Councillors on Northampton Council’s licensing sub-committee reduced the venue’s overall capacity from 550 to 380 and imposed measures requiring its management to produce a health and safety management plan every time the club runs an external promoter event. The committee imposed further requirements for the venue management to take greater control over ticket sales to such events, to install a second handrail on the main stairs and to put plans in place to manage customers as they leave the venue to stop any disorder erupting.
La Tasca to hold fund-raiser for Team Margot: La Tasca is to hold a fund-raising event for Team Margot, the organisation that raises funds in the wake of the tragic early death of Margot Martini, daughter of sector entrepreneur Yaser Martini and his wife Vicky, from a rare form of leukaemia. Chief executive Simon Wilkinson said: “On Thursday 16 April, the new La Tasca at the Barclaycard Arena will be holding a fund raising event for Team Margot. We will be doing a giant paella at the front of the restaurant all day and selling a plate for £5. 100% of the sales will be donated to Team Margot. Between 5.30pm and 7.30pm we will also invite guests for a glass of cava, when Yasser Martini will also say a few words and raise awareness about Swab4Margot.”
Leeds's Fab Cafe promises return after closure: The Fab Cafe in Leeds, which claims to be the world's first television and movie theme bar, has promised to reopen elsewhere in the city after it closes in April after 14 years. The venue, which has a sister outlet in Manchester that opened in 1998, is closing to make way for developers. Mike Royce, director of Future Promotions, which owns the bar, said on the venue's Facebook page: “We have taken the hit in the name of progress, and everything was amicable. You will be aware of all of the massive redevelopment in the area. These are changes intended to improve Leeds as a city, and we were right in the middle of that. So we had to pack up our toys and move elsewhere. The amazing news is that we do have a new location, and over the coming months we will be announcing the details of the opening of the brand new Fab Café Leeds! From the moment we close on Woodhouse Lane, the gang will be beavering away to make your new home from home as Fab as ever. Thanks to everyone who ever worked at Fab Leeds, and made it so much fun. The most important thank you is reserved for all the customers that made the place Fab."
Las Iguanas finds its Best Bartender: Las Iguanas has crowned its Best Bartender, after a competition involving all 38 of the Latin American restaurant group's outlets. Each venue sent a representative to the Great Eastern Kitchen in Westfield Stratford, East London to compete for the role of Best Bartender. The battling mixologists went through a series of challenging rounds in front of a panel of judges consisted of Las Iguanas directors Andy Williams and Ashley Crawshaw, Erkan Hasekilerden from Rubicon, Richard Anderson from Pernod Ricard UK, and Absolut UK's brand ambassador, Rico Dynan. Dan Smith from Las Iguanas Deansgate in Manchester came first, with Rob Allen from Las Iguanas Plymouth and Richard Marshall from Las Iguanas Edinburgh second and third respectively. The event was sponsored by Absolut and Rubicon.
NewRiver Retail pub landlord fights convenience co-location plan: The landlord of The Hare & Hounds Inn, in Stourbridge in the West Midlands, one of the 202 pubs sold by Marston’s to NewRiver Retail in November 2013, is fighting a plan to locate a convenience store next to his pub Lee Sargeant said if it went ahead, the development would leave him with just six car parking spaces. He said at busy times as many as 50 spaces could be filled by customers using the pub and if they were not available it would seriously affect his trade. Sargeant, who has run the pub for three years, said he planned to fight the development. "To be fair to New River Retail they have not suggested the pub should be closed, which I know has been an issue in other areas," he said.
Brands line up for Southend seafront as it moves away from fish and chips: A number of brands will be moving onto Southend seafront as an arcade is closed down after almost half a century. Paul Thompson, chairman of the Southend Seafront Traders Association, has bought the former Circus Circus arcade and plans to transform it ,with food outlets including Subway, Costa and Dunkin’ Donuts moving in. Thompson’s new venture is being fitted in quick time ready for an opening on Friday. He admitted it was another sign of the seafront moving away from its traditional roots. The new brands will also include Baskin Robbins and Maple Moose pancakes and will fit around a Spar supermarket. Thompson said: “I think the seafront is moving away from the traditional fish and chip shops, so we’ve gone for big names which have a lot of followers, that will attract both residents and tourists.

Trust Inns keeps Pack Horse running while it seeks a buyer:
Trust Inns, the pub operator owned by Trevor Hemmings and led by Lynne D’Arcy, has reversed a decision to close its Pack Horse pub in Longport, Stoke on Trent, opting to keep the venue open while it seeks a buyer. Phil Lycett, the business manager for Trust Inns, which is based in Chorley, Lancashire, said the change in plans was made so the pub was not left empty and boarded-up while a buyer is sought. He said: "We recently asked our long-term tenants if they would be in a position to continue running the pub until it's actually sold, and they agreed. It's very much a fluid situation." Dave Buckland and his partner Lynne Jordan have been at the Pack Horse for the past five years. The couple had planned to stage a closing party on Saturday but cancelled after being assured they can keep serving up pints for now. Buckland, 55, said: "Back in November when they told us they were going to sell the pub I asked for a rolling contract, and now I've got it, so I can't complain. I'm quite happy because if it takes a long time to sell the premises I could be here until I retire."

BrewDog launches 8.7% abv beer called Restorative Beverage for Invalids and Convalescents: In a move seemingly guaranteed to get the Portman Group, the drinks industry's watchdog, in a froth, the Scottish brewer BrewDog is launching an 8.7% abv IPA called Restorative Beverage for Invalids and Convalescents. The beer's name comes from a textbook published in 1843 by Dr Jonathan Pereira called A Treatise on Food and Diet, which described the IPA of the time as "carefully fermented, so as to be devoid of all sweetness, or, in other words, to be dry; and it contains double the usual quantity of hops. It forms, therefore, a most valuable restorative beverage for invalids and convalescents." BrewDog co-founder James Watt said: "This is heritage and history in a bottle. BrewDog has always been inspired by the IPAs of the past, famed for the huge quantities of hops used to create bold and brash bitterness. With this beer, we have created a beer with such intensity that it is akin to injecting hops straight into your tongue with a needle. It's the India Pale Ale in its purest form; pale, bitter and dry. Restorative Beverage for Invalids and Convalescents is a mouthful in both name and flavour." The beer is available online from BrewDog's shop and will go on sale in its bars nationwide on Friday, 6 March.

La Sala due to take part in High Court oral hearing over hours: La Sala, the Spanish restaurant brand brought to the UK by James Horler, was due to take part in a High Court hearing this week over a decision to restrict its opening hours. The venue, in Chigwell Road, Woodford Green, Essex submitted a bid for later opening hours soon after being granted a licence allowing it to open until midnight in August last year. This was refused by Redbridge Council's licensing committee. A judicial review of the decision was requested, which was denied. However, a request for an oral hearing has been granted and is due to take place this week. The venue wants to adopt a "shadow" licence, which would increase the opening hours used by Deuces Bar, which previously occupied the building.

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