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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Mon 16th Mar 2015 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Casual Dining Group reports rapid progress in plan to double profits – and eyes expansion to 500 sites: The Casual Dining Group (CDG), formerly the Tragus Group, has revealed rapid progress on its plan to double profits from its current platform of 200 “great leases in great locations”. CDG’s three-year ‘platform for growth’ plan focuses on Bella Italia and Café Rouge after the sale of Strada and a “benign” CVA restructuring that meant debt reduced from £354m to £91m, chief executive Steve Richards told the Propel Multi Club Conference. It plans to double profits and create 3,000 new jobs in a self-funded plan that will involve £140m of capital expenditure to refurbish 160 existing sites and add 70 to grow to 270 sites – and then look at doubling the size of the company to 500 venues. It is also looking at rolling-out its Belgian moules frites brand Belgo, which has been “very successful” over the years. Richards said circa 30 refurbishments have already been completed at Bella Italia so far, six months into its current three-year plan for the business. Between Easter and October, a further 65 sites will be refurbished at an average of £300,000 per site – an investment of £19,500,000. The strategy for Bella Italia, which is led by Nick White, involves radical new design, repositioning “brown Bella” into “Bella blue”, moving it out of the crowded Italian and pizza market (“30% of its sales are pizza but it’s not an out-and-out pizza-based business”) and into the family-focused, traditionalists and teenagers-in-groups themed sector, alongside brands such as Frankie & Benny’s. “We want 70 new sites and we have secured 37 so far, primarily in leisure parks, but also concessions and high street locations – and we’re opening six in the next six weeks. Bella was seen as good value-for-money but food and service was seen as only ‘okay’,” said Richards: “We think that it was a great estate but under-invested. It was a really stable business but in desperate need of evolution, especially to get it off the high street. We’ve taken the supply chain out to Italy and up-graded the whole taste experience – and not chased margin. An average waiter was being asked to look after up to ten tables and we’ve cut that down to four or five – a real investment back into the P&L on service.” The brand now has a new leading children’s menu and breakfast menu – and a new coffee, milkshakes, wine and beer offer. Eighteen months into the evolution process at Bella Italia, the brand is in double digit sales and profit growth, said Richards. Bella is the top ‘brand riser’ in the last year on the latest CGA Peach BrandTrack report, up from position 22 to 12 – and the highest riser in the sector in terms of net promoter scores. The company will have 150 Bella Italia’s across the country creating a £200m-turnover business by 2018, but, said Richards, “we think there can be 300 Bella’s and we will take it overseas. There has been a lot of franchising interest.” Meanwhile, Café Rouge’s evolution project, which began six months ago, is more about “recapturing the past to some degree” than “re-positoning”, he said. “That doesn’t sound like a go-forward mission statement but the past for Café Rouge was pretty good. There is still a lot of customer affection for Café Rouge, especially among ladies who lunch but the décor and offer had become tired. It has some fantastic buildings and locations but there hasn’t been much investment over the past 25 years. It’s about taking it back to being hugely popular again with families and singletons. It’s about improving the food choice and the quality – and returning to the hero dishes and the Frenchness of it. We’ve had to replace every single kitchen in the estate and that’s something we’ve been doing in the background. We’ve replaced the cooking platform in every single Café Rouge to enable us to open up the menu. We’ve also changed the supply chain, increasing fresh products by 50% and introduced a new wine list with Bibendum that we think is second-to-none. We’ve also trialed seven “new-look” sites so far. They’re shooting the lights out. They’re not a dial turner in design terms because that’s not what this is about – they’re going back to an authentic French bistro look. We wanted to deliver on the French classics – great ingredients, great classics all the time. We’ve put a lot of work into delivering 15 core dishes fantastically well.” Evolved Cafe Rouge sites have wine displays with overt cellars, fresh bread displays, a patisserie display and comfortable seating, with a stress on creating warmth and snugness. One in Victoria Station now has a rotisserie trial, “which has gone really well”. The brand, led by James Spragg, will see 15 refurbishments starting in May and a further 30 after the summer. “This is probably a year behind Bella in terms of its evolution,” said Richards. There be 100 Cafe Rouges by 2018 – and a franchise has opened in Dubai. The company is also looking at new formats. “We’ve put a new team in place to help us think about how we might use the bistro idea and the Frenchness in different spaces,” said Richards: “We saw it as a very profitable business with a long tail – and food had been dumbed down somewhat but we see great opportunity in this.” Café Rouge is now the second ‘highest riser’ brand on the Peach BrandTrack report, having moved from 30 to position 22. Of Casual Dining Group’s future, Richards said: “We have a vision to get to 500 units. It means Bella can get to 300 sites, international franchising will be important, we’re building a food development centre of excellence to build on our food credentials, bringing food experts into the business to ensure we never let that slip again, we will look at a third brand and acquiring different things.”

Industry News:

More than 80 companies sign up for Propel Social Media Masterclass: More than 80 sector companies have now signed up for the Propel Social Media Masterclass being held in partnership with Digital Blonde’s Karen Fewell. Attendees include: Spirit Pub Company, Cabana, Everards, Stable Bar and Pizza, Pub People Company, Charles Wells, Bill’s Restaurants, JD Wetherspoon, Admiral Taverns, Amber Taverns, Young’s, Camerons, Ignite Group, Hall & Woodhouse, Loungers, Enterprise Inns, Frog Pubs, Daniel Thwaites, Batemans, Luminar, Burning Night Group, TCG Management Services, Chilled Pubs, Flying Pig & Lobster, Hickory’s Smokehouse, 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.

Alastair Campbell confirmed as keynote speaker for ALMR Spring Conference: Alastair Campbell, former Downing Street director of communications, has been confirmed as the keynote speaker for this year’s ALMR Spring Conference at BAFTA, Piccadilly, on 29 April, where he will talk about ‘Winners and How They Succeed’ with research from his number one best seller. Other speakers include Byron, Be At One, Beds and Bars and Purple Cubed, with exclusive research on people, property and profits from University of Lucerne and CGA Peach to be presented.

Hakkasan opens $107m Omnia nightclub in Vegas: UK-based bar and restaurant company Hakkasan has opened a 3,500-capacity nightclub, Omnia, in Las Vegas, costing a reported £107m. The nightclub occupies 75,000 square feet of space, more than doubling the size of the previous Pure nightclub in Caesars Palace. It looks like a modernistic opera house and has 12 bookable opera boxes. Admission is $30 for women and around $20 more for men. It has an outdoor terrace showcasing panoramic views of the Vegas Strip. Two ascending grand staircases lead guests to the balcony, with the 12 opera boxes and two grand skyboxes for premiere seating with views of the dance floor below. The new club is 5,000 square foot smaller than the company’s Hakkasan nightclub in Vegas, which takes circa $103m a year.

Masterchef winner eyes restaurant opening: 2014 Masterchef winner Ping Coombes is planning to open her own restaurant. She said: “I’m hoping to open my own restaurant in Bath by the end of the year. I’m aiming for casual Malaysian food with a twist, my trademark. In five years’ time I want an empire of restaurants like Jamie Oliver. I only began cooking when I came to study at Oxford when I was 21 and started calling (my mum) for recipes. (Since winning Masterchef I’ve) done lots of festivals and demonstrations and am writing my first cookbook full of stories about what inspires my recipes”.

Tim Martin – our Scottish pubs are unaffected by drink drive reduction: JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin has reported no real obvious impact on trade at his 70 Scottish pubs from the reduced drink drive limit. He said: “I try to discourage our team from blaming those sorts of external factors, because it is dangerous for a business to blame too many external factors. To be fair, we are probably better positioned than most because our pubs tend to be bang in the middle of high streets. There is normally good public transport (and) there are normally about 20,000 people living within a mile.”

BeerX signs up more than 1,000 delegates: BeerX, the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA)’s annual celebration of British Beer, has signed up more than 1,000 delegates to visit over its three days in Sheffield, starting this Wednesday, 18 March. “Passing the 1,000 mark is a great achievement,” said SIBA managing director Mike Benner. “BeerX only started two years ago, but has always managed to attract the highest calibre speakers and seminar presenters to participate. The combination of insights and practical advice from industry experts, with presentations to winners in our National Beer Competition and Business Awards as well as our Festival of Beer, has turned BeerX into the biggest event on the British brewing calendar. The fact that so many delegates from previous years are returning, and new ones joining them, reflects their positive experience of BeerX. We’re aiming to make this year’s event even better.”

Luke Johnson attacks large company executive pay: Sector investor Luke Johnson has criticised pay levels at large businesses. In his Sunday Times column, he wrote: “There is almost no proof that there is a limited supply of brilliant leaders for existing institutions. Unfortunately the system is corrupted. Most plc remuneration committees are dominated by non-executives from similar boards – they are part of the status quo and unlikely to rock the boat. Supposedly independent pay consultants are retained executives, and it is in the insiders’ interest that everyone earns more. Bogus justifications for pay hikes are brought forth, such as ensuring executives feature within the “upper quartile”. This has the effect of an endless upward escalator for lucky recipients.” 

CBI urges government to exempt smallest business from paying business rates: The CBI has urged the government to exempt the smallest firms from paying business rates in its current review of the system. Director-General John Cridland said: “The current system of business rates is outmoded, clunky and regressive and it’s holding back the high street. That’s why we’ve been calling for a wholesale review of the system. The package of measures already announced in the Autumn Statement that will come into force from April will help ease the pressure on hard-pressed retailers. But this review provides an opportunity to go much further and we’ll be making the case for removing the smallest firms from paying business rates completely, linking rates to CPI rather than RPI and introducing more frequent valuations. This would go a long way to achieving a more competitive business rates regime that incentivises business investment and supports the high street.”

Company News:

Brasserie Blanc secures pipeline of five sites for pub concept, praises tenanted pub company landlords, warns on high street unsustainbility: Brasserie Bar Co pub arm White Brasserie Co’s five pubs are now averaging more than £30,000 per week in sales – and there are now five sites in the pipeline, chief executive Mark Derry has told the Propel Multi Club Conference. Of the move into running pubs, he said: “We saw an opportunity to leverage our restaurant skills to develop a second business in premium food pubs and this now forms the second string to our bow.” The company plans to have 20 to 30 pubs over the next four to five years. The premium pubs, which have a 50:50 wet to dry ratio, have the same menu as Brasserie Blanc. Moving into the pub market has helped the company move away from “the cluttered high street”, explained Derry. They have also managed to negotiate some long free-of-tie pub leases, he said. “It seemed the opportunities on the pub property front offered great potential for a business like ours. The high street in many towns has become more congested – I’m thinking of places like Winchester where four new restaurants opened last month. We have found pub companies to be very easy to deal with so far. There is quite a lot of dissatisfaction in the pub industry with the major landlords. But I can tell you our experience with landlords has been excellent – we have five sites and five more sites in the pipeline. Landlords have been extremely easy to deal with. When you compare it to dealing with extremely serious landlords, frankly, they are easy to talk to. I think in the pub industry, had people spent time dealing with Land Securities and other such operators they may have a slightly different attitude. The fundamental thing is that when you get away from the cluttered high street, it is difficult to set rents because: what is market rent in a village? If you are a slightly bigger operator like us, I think you’ll find that if you can get the volume – then the rents don’t seem to be particularly expensive. Our rent roll in our pub estate is probably six or seven per cent of turnover – so not extraordinary. We managed to negotiate long free-of-tie leases on the basis of investing our capital – but that’s what we’re doing elsewhere so it’s not anything new to us. There are also extraordinary attitude and expectation differences in pubs versus restaurants. When you run a business with Raymond Blanc as the figurehead, from day one you are having to control the numbers coming in. But the expectation is enormous. The comparison with the Manoir and its two Michelin stars is frequently drawn – and that’s not one we’re ever going to win. With pubs we run exactly the same menu and pricing outside of London. Our customers are genuinely impressed and so relaxed – and, at our pub site in Teddington, for example, we haven’t had a written complaint in two years. That whole area of expectation makes pubs a really terrific business to be involved in and run.” Derry also said that the current landscape of five or so restaurant brands arriving in county towns with populations of circa 70,000 is new ground for the sector – a “very cluttered high street that I suspect is only going to get more cluttered. They are not sustainable, these things”. More generally, he said: “We are very French and we’re trying to leverage our founder Raymond Blanc’s skill base and develop the idea of the family of Blanc. We have 200 chefs working in a business with 25 outlets. So we’ve got a very high skill base and we‘re trying to highlight the fact that, amongst all the operators out there we really are doing everything from scratch – even our own stocks and pickles – when customers think, to be frank, everybody does that. The concept of de-skilling is not something we recognise – we genuinely believe that cooking is a skill.” Alongside this, a full refurbishment of the 20 Brasserie Blanc sites will be completed by September this year, with seven already completed. “Those that have been refurbished have all seen sales growth,” Derry said. “They have a more relaxed atmosphere now and we are attracting younger customers. Older customers can be quite cruel – they are pretty vociferous in explaining they don’t like the changes. But we’re really excited about moving Brasserie Blanc moving forward – the business is genuinely reinvigorated. We believe we have an advantage over new entrants – we already have the best site in town. More generally, we’re setting a new course in a changing market.”

Ed’s to open six this Spring as it targets 55 sites by the end of 2015: Restaurant group Ed’s Easy Diner has opened in The Mall shopping centre in Blackburn this week. Two more Diners will launch in Inverness and Aberdeen taking the total in Scotland to four, as well as Spring openings in Angel Central, Islington (formerly the N1 Centre), the Grand Arcade, Cambridge and The Mall, Luton. Ed’s plans to further expand the estate to 55 Diners by the end of 2015. Andrew Guy, chief executive of Ed’s, said: “Since opening our first Diner in Edinburgh last October, closely followed by Glasgow, we now look forward to expanding further into Scotland with Inverness and Aberdeen in April and May. Launches planned for Blackburn, Islington, Cambridge and Luton represent excellent regional opportunities for Ed’s, all well located in high footfall shopping centres.” Ed’s continue to work closely with UK employment charity Springboard to target local people offering worthwhile, long-term employment and careers. Approximately 360 new staff will be employed by the end of May with the help of Springboard.

Harry Ramsden’s ‘Harry’s at Home’ range is extended: The Harry Ramsden’s ‘Harry’s at Home’ range is to be further extended after successfully launching last year. Harry’s new Breaded Chicken O’s and X’s, which like the other products in the Harry’s at Home range are 100% British, will be launched in 371 selected Tesco and Tesco Extra stores nationwide today (Monday 16 March). Made from 100% chicken breast, the new lines will be available in 450g packs, retailing for £3 per pack. The Harry’s at Home range currently includes Crispy Dippers (pack of 25) and both Crispy Battered and Southern Fried Chicken Steaks (packs of 4). Joe Teixeira, chief executive of Harry Ramsden’s said: “Given its popularity with shoppers since it launched in 2014, our confidence in the Harry’s at Home brand continues to grow. Harry Ramsden’s is very much a family brand, having served the generations for over 85 years and it was with the younger age groups in mind that we developed this new line. With its affordable price point, we believe this new range will be appealing to both adults responsible for the weekly family shopping, as well as to younger children, teenagers and students for whom this latest offering has been specifically designed.” Further additions to the range are currently being developed and are expected to be introduced later this year. In addition, talks are ongoing with other national retailers for further listings, as well as with a number of international customers.

Former Atmosphere Bars and Clubs nightclub goes to auction – without reserve price: A former Atmosphere Bars and Clubs nightclub in the Grand Theatre in Llandudno is set to go to auction – without a reserve price. Broadway Boulevard closed in June 2013 after Atmosphere Bars and Clubs went into administration. Initially the landmark site was put up for sale for £750,000, it was reduced to £500,000 and was then put up for auction in December but failed to meet the reserve. The site will go to auction with Allsops in London on Wednesday, 25 March.

Mama & Company appoints AlixPartners after receiving unsolicited offers: Festival and venue operator Mama & Company has hired business advisor AlixPartners as it mulls its options following two unsolicited bids for the firm, Music Week has reported. The magazine reports the offers are from companies in the music and entertainment sectors. Mama was subject to a £7.3 million management buyout from HMV in 2012, backed by Lloyds Development Capital, part of Lloyds Banking Group. Former chief executive and co-founder Dean James led the management buyout before leaving the company last year. He was succeeded at Mama by Rory Bett, previously the firm’s commercial director. The company’s venue portfolio includes The Forum in Kentish Town, Camden’s The Jazz Cafe and Barfly, The Garage, The Borderline and Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen, all in London, along with Manchester Ritz, Birmingham’s The Institute and Arts Club Liverpool. It sold Edinburgh Picture House in late 2013.

McDonald’s looks to double up at Gatwick: McDonald’s wants to double up at Gatwick Airport, lodging plans to build a 637 sq m restaurant complete with a drive-through on vacant land between Gatwick Airport and Horley. Plans submitted to Crawley Borough Council pinpoint Longbridge Way as the site for the two-storey building. The proposed restaurant – which would front the roundabout which leads drivers to the North Terminal of Gatwick Airport – will include cycle racks, disabled parking bays and 57 customer parking spots. It is also expected to employ more than 65 full and part time staff.

Michelin-starred chef to step down: Michael Smith, the Michelin-starred chef-director of The Three Chimneys on Skye is to leave along with head chef Kevin McLean. The pair depart in May, with Herald Scotland reporting that they are not planning a new venture together. The new man at the helm is Scott Davies, currently head chef at The Adamson in St Andrews, which he helped open in 2012. He was runner-up in BBC’s MasterChef the Professionals in 2013, and has worked with Michelin chef Adam Stokes at Glenapp Castle when it achieved its first Michelin star. He achieved his own three AA rosettes as head chef at the Rusacks Hotel, St Andrews, in 2012 at the age of 26. His new job begins in May and makes him only the third head chef at The Three Chimneys in 30 years. Three Chimneys’ owner Shirley Spear said: “We are immensely grateful to Michael and Kevin for all their hard work, especially achieving the Michelin star, and we wish them all the very best in the future. As The Three Chimneys approaches its 30th anniversary next month, we are very much looking to the future and in Scott we believe we have someone who can work with us to take the business forward to a whole new level.”

Brother plan third site for award-wining tapas concept: The brothers behind Wales’ award-winning tapas restaurant, Bar 44, are opening their third establishment later this year in Cardiff. Following the success of their Cowbridge and Penarth sites, Tom and Owen Morgan are bringing their take on modern Spain to the city centre after securing premises on Westgate Street. The new opening will sit in the space formerly occupied by Feather and Bone, with capacity for 120 diners. It will have two kitchens, including an open kitchen offering a Spanish pantry menu, private function space for group and corporate dining and event bookings, and a large bar serving Spanish wines, cocktails, beer and cider. Two new menus are being designed specifically for the new venue, including an express lunch menu. Owen Morgan said: “We’ve always wanted to expand our operation beyond Cowbridge and Penarth. Previously we’ve focused on opening in affluent, suburban locations, but, as the popularity of Cardiff city centre’s food scene has grown amongst both independent and national restaurants, it has become a focus for us.”

Gusto lines up Glasgow opening later this month: Bar and restaurant operator Gusto is creating up to 60 new jobs opening a new outlet in Glasgow. The group has taken the 7,800 sq ft unit previously occupied by Clydesdale Bank on Bothwell Street in the city centre. Gusto Restaurant and Bar Glasgow will be set over two floors and will feature two private dining rooms and a large outside terrace. The restaurant is expected to open by the end of the month, and will employ 36 full-time staff and a further 24 in part-time roles. Last year, Knutsford-based Gusto Restaurant and Bar completed a management buyout from Manchester-based restaurant group Living Ventures, funded by Palatine Private Equity. Gusto currently have nine outlets in Edinburgh, Newcastle, Liverpool, Didsbury, Cheadle Hulme, Cookridge, Heswall, Knutsford and Alderley Edge. The group said its growth plans will include adding new venues across Scotland “in the coming years”.

Wetherspoon plans pub and hotel in Hamilton, Scotland: JD Wetherspoon plans to invest £1.5m in opening a hotel, pub and restaurant on the site of Hamilton’s former Bairds department store, creating 50 jobs. The landmark building on the junction of Quarry Street and Duke Street has been lying vacant since the store’s closure in February 2014. Wetherspoon spokesman Eddie Gershon said: “It is our intention to open a pub and 13-bedroom hotel in Hamilton, but this is subject to the necessary permissions. We believe that a Wetherspoon pub and hotel will be a good asset for the town. Hopefully it would also act as a catalyst for other businesses to invest in the town.”

Intertain to invest £500,000 in Bristol Walkabout: Walkabout operator Intertain is investing £500,000 in the refurbishment of its venue on Corn Street, Bristol. The extensive renovation of the Walkabout venue will create 15 new permanent bar, kitchen and management jobs and include a full redesign of the main bar in addition to the creation of additional bars. The refurbishment will include a ‘Reef Bar’ for the main bar area, where linked-screens showing under-sea and beach footage will give the impression of being in a ‘Great Barrier Reef-like’ paradise. John Leslie, chief executive of Intertain, said: “We are very excited by the Bristol project, and are expecting a great return from the investment. The refurbishment will reinforce Walkabout’s position as the best party and live sports venue in the city centre, while at the same time showcasing our fantastic day time offering.” The Bristol venue will re-open with a VIP party on Thursday 26 March.

Starbucks to leave Ipswich shopping centre: Starbucks is close a site located within Ipswich’s Buttermarket Shopping Centre this Thursday (19 March). The news comes days after the shopping centre was bought for £9.2 million by Drum Property Group and Capital and Regional, which has announced plans to modernise the centre as a retail and leisure hybrid. Starbucks will retain a presence in the town, continuing to operate from the former White Horse Hotel.

Landmark north east site re-opened by new company: A landmark venue that hit the buffers leaving a trail of debt has been re-opened by two of the businessmen, Seamus Whelan and Simon Burdus, who were running it when it was forced to close. Sunderland’s train pub, The Pullman, in Seaburn, shut down when operating company Rosalind Leisure went into liquidation. Now, two of the directors have set up a new company, Signal Box Hotel, to run the site. The Pullman has been closed since 1 December last year after administrators Begbies Traynor were called in. “The administrators advised us as to the different routes we could take, but we decided that re-opening was for the best,” said Whelan. “People may say we should have walked away, but we didn’t want someone else coming in and benefitting from what we’ve set up.”

PizzaExpress owner keen to buy-out Hong Kong franchisee: The Chinese owner of PizzaExpress are looking at buying out its Hong Kong-based franchise partner as it eyes quicker expansion in China, The Financial Times has reported. Beijing-based Hony Capital, which acquired the pizza group in a £900m deal with Cinven last year, intends to acquire the franchisee’s 26 PizzaExpress restaurants and plans to open up to 15 more every year. “The PizzaExpress board were very keen to grow our business in China before Hony Capital acquired us,” said Richard Hodgson, chief executive. “Our restaurants in China are typically twice as busy as those in the UK.” PizzaExpress opened its first wholly-owned restaurant in Beijing last year, and another in Shenzhen will follow shortly. “There are dozens of second-tier Chinese cities with populations similar to that of London,” Hodgson added. “It has taken us 15 years to get to 27 restaurants, and we’re not about to make any mistakes in China by rushing.”

Center Parcs looks at sale this Spring: Center Parcs owner Blackstone is looking at selling the business this spring, The Sunday Times has reported. The move has attracted interest from the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC, attracted by the company’s steady income stream and property portfolio. Center Parcs reported earnings of £147m and a 97.2% occupancy rate in its most recent full year. 

Reynolds awarded supplier accreditation: Food supplier Reynolds has been awarded the Sustainable Restaurant Association’s (SRA) Approved Supplier accreditation, a first for a national fresh produce supplier. The criteria for becoming an SRA approved supplier are now significantly more comprehensive, with additional focus on corporate ethics and traceability. Conor O’Brien, environmental coordinator at Reynolds, said: “To retain the accreditation, Reynolds had to complete a comprehensive survey across three main categories – sourcing, environment and society.” Mark Lineham, managing director of the SRA, added: “Reynolds supply a number of our rated restaurants. Achieving the SRA’s ‘approved supplier’ status means these businesses can work with Reynolds with increased confidence, knowing this helps them to meet their sustainability goals.”

Bath nightclub Moles expects reopening ‘soon’: The Bath nightclub Moles, which was closed after an electrical fire a year ago gutted the premises, has said it expects to announce a reopening date “soon”. It a tweet to its followers, the venue said: “ Refurbishment of Moles is speeding ahead and will be completed soon. Live music @MolesBath will be back better than ever #longlivemoles.” It also denied rumours that the venue would be taken over by The Porter, the bar and restaurant next door whose owner, Bath businessman Giles Thomas, also owns the freehold of Moles’s premises. The venue, which opened in 1978 and has played host to the likes of Oasis, The Smiths, and The Vaccines, was originally due to re-open last autumn. In January, joint manager Tom Maddicott said: “We still don’t know many details about the state of the building and we don’t have a date for when we can put all our stuff back into the building.”

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