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Thu 15th Oct 2015 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Pub and restaurant like-for-likes up 1.2% in September: Britain’s managed pub and restaurant sector is seeing steady, if unspectacular, sales growth in 2015, reflected in the latest trading data for September. Collective like-for-like sales were up 1.2% on the same month last year, broadly in line with the underlying 12-month trend, latest figures from the Coffer Peach Business Tracker show. “This year has generally been one of ‘steady-as-she-goes’ for the eating and drinking out market, with annualised like-for-like sales to the end of September running at 1.3% up on the previous 12 months,” said Peter Martin, vice-president of CGA Peach, the business insight consultancy that produces the Tracker, in partnership with Coffer Group, Baker Tilly and UBS. “This time last year we were seeing growth of twice that rate, showing that despite the fact people are continuing to eat and drink out the bulk of any uplift in consuming spending is largely going elsewhere, such as on bigger ticket consumer goods. Weekly numbers show that drink-led pubs performed strongly in the last weeks of the month, coinciding with the start of the Rugby World Cup midway through September. But overall, restaurant chains still performed best throughout the month with like-for-likes up 2.8% on last September. While drink-led pubs had a better month, also helped by better weather, pub groups collectively were ahead just 0.4%.” Competition in the sector was heating up, driven especially by ambitious brand roll-outs by casual dining chains, he said. Total sales, which include the impact of new openings, grew 4.6% in September among the Tracker cohort of 32 operating companies – and are running at 5.5% for the year to date. Total sales for restaurant groups were up 7.5% for the month, and 10.6% ahead of last year outside of the M25. Regionally, London had a slightly worse month than the rest of the UK with like-for-likes up 0.9% against 1.3% for the rest of the country. The Coffer Peach data comes directly from 32 participating companies, including a cross-section of managed operators, from major players such as Mitchells & Butlers, Whitbread, Stonegate, Pizza Hut and Pizza Express to smaller, and sometimes regionally-based, groups such as Living Ventures, Hall & Woodhouse, Byron, Loungers, Laine Pub Co and Le Bistrot Pierre. David Coffer, chairman of Coffer Group, said: “There is a continuing trend for operators to find value by the constant migration from an ever more expensive and competitive London area. However, the culture of eating close to home will also drive up local values. Tall trees can’t grow to the sky and there surely will be a point where rentals, premiums and menu pricing in central London become untenable. It will be interesting to see whether these trends continue.”

Industry News:

All 360 places for Propel Multi Club Conference on 5 November now booked: All 360 places for the final Propel Multi Club Conference of 2015, taking place on Thursday, 5 November, are now booked. Anyone wanting to go on the waiting list for the event should email Adam Dickinson on adam.dickinson@propelinfo.com. See bottom of email for full details of speaker schedule

Coffee shops replacing pubs on the high street: Coffee shops and charity shops are taking over from cheque-cashing stores, banks and pubs in the latest sign of the transformation of Britain’s high streets since the recession. High streets and town centres were ravaged by the credit crunch as shops collapsed under the weight of debts and a consumer spending squeeze. But the number of shops closing down over the first half of the year has fallen to its lowest level in five years, according to figures by PwC and the Local Data Company. In the first six months of 2015, 2,534 shops closed nationwide at a rate of 14 a day, compared with 15 a day in the same period last year. The rate of store closures peaked in 2012, at 20 a day. However the study also revealed a net reduction of 437 shops in the six-month period, with 2,634 outlets closing compared with 2,197 openings. This represents a slight widening of the gap when compared with the previous year. Coffee shops are proving to be the most active part of the high street, with 26 new openings during the first six months of the year. The number of pizza and takeaway stores also rose alongside a surge in the number of health food shops taking on new premises. Among the losers were bakeries, with 26 closing their doors, and pubs, of which 20 called time in the first-half.

Research reveals unhealthy eating habits of over-60s: Millions of over-60s have an unhealthier diet than ever – because their kids have left home, a study has found. After years of eating a healthy, balanced diet to cater for their children, pensioners are now instead turning to ready meals and snacks to get them through the day. Six in ten admit to skipping breakfast at least once a week while almost eight in ten have a day a week where they don’t eat lunch. 62% of those who took part in the poll, by Seven Seas, also admitted to regularly ditching a full meal in favour of a piece of toast, packet of crisps or even just a cup of tea or coffee. And almost one in ten never sit down to a home-cooked meal, with one in 20 only making an effort to cook something when they have visitors. No longer needing to worry about what their children eat was among the top reasons for letting their diet slip along with health issues, not feeling as hungry as they used to and living alone. Seven Seas’ consultant dietitian Helen Bond said: “Sadly, this research doesn’t surprise me. For years we worry about the meals we serve up for our children, and setting them a good example. But when the children have left, it seems there are many who struggle to keep their healthy diets going after their offspring have flown the nest.”

ING bank partners with Seedrs for Belgium and Luxembourg crowdfunding: International bank ING has selected Seedrs as its equity crowdfunding partner for the launch of a fast track route to equity crowdfunding for ambitious Belgium and Luxembourg-based businesses. A spokesman for Seedrs said: “For entrepreneurs who are driven by innovative ideas, a classic bank loan is not always the best or only solution. Both entrepreneurs and banks can benefit from a diversified funding combination. That’s why ING will now offer businesses that it believes can benefit from full or partial funding through Seedrs access to a fast track campaign review process. We’re very proud to have been chosen as a partner by such a well-respected institution, and we look forward to working with ING and referred businesses more closely over the coming months to raise the profile of equity crowdfunding in the wider business community.”

Birmingham restaurant named best in the UK by TripAdvisor: Adam’s Michelin-starred restaurant in Bennetts Hill in Birmingham has been named the fourth best in the world – and the best in the UK – for fine dining by customer review website TripAdvisor. The ratings site also said the restaurant is ranked the third best in Europe. Only two other restaurants in England have made the world’s top ten – Sat Bains in Nottingham (number five) and Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons in Great Milton (number nine) – along with The Clink in Cardiff, a restaurant run by prisoners at HMP Cardiff. Spain’s Martin Berasategui in Lasarte has been declared the world’s best. Since opening in spring 2013, Adam’s has received rave reviews on TripAdvisor – it has had more than 700 five “bubble” ratings. Natasha Stokes, co-owner of Adam’s, said: “To be rated top five in the world is a remarkable accolade, one we hope we can live up to.” Adam’s was opened as a pop up restaurant and the couple is planning to open a permanent venue at Oxford House in Waterloo Street in January 2016.

Company News:

Welcome Break reports turnover and profit boost: Welcome Break, led by Rod McKie, has reported turnover rose to £314m in the year to 27 January 2015, compared to £306.6m the year before. Profit before tax climbed to £18,967,000 from £13,969,000 the year before. Ebitda was £30.7m, compared to £26.7m in the year prior. Turnover excluding fuel rose by 9.8% year-on-year. The company invested £6.3m in the year, down from £8.7m the year before.

Itsu reports pre-tax profit more than doubled to £2,021,984: Companies House document filed for Itsu showed the company made a pre-tax profit of £2,021,984 in the year to 1 January 2015, up from £863,683 the year before. Turnover jumped 20.8% to £67,869,415, driven by 6.8% like-for-like sales growth and ten new stores opening. Ebitda jumped 32.7% to £6,906,865. At the weekend, Propel reported that Itsu has secured a £40m facility with HSBC to fund further growth.

Home Grown Hotels reports turnover hit £10m: Home Grown Hotels, the destination restaurant and boutique hotel operator led by Robin Hutson, has reported turnover of £10,038,226 in the year to 31 December, up from £4,581,471 the year before – the company opened two new sites, The Pig near Bath in March 2014 and the Pig on the Beach in June 2014. Opening costs produced pre-tax losses of £516,162 compared to £140 the year before. The company stated: “Both new openings performed well above expectations with each generating positive Ebitda. Pre-opening costs were well managed and demand higher than expected. Bath generated an average occupancy of 80% over its ten months and Beach 92% over its seven months of opening. The Pig has had another strong year with the hotel achieving turnover of £4.14m (2013: £4m) and Ebitda of £1m (2013: £1.07m). Behind these figures is average occupancy of 94% (2013: 93%) and average daily restaurant covers in the year of 161 (2013: 162). The Pig in the Wall had an exceptional year for such a small operation, generating revenue of £700,000 (2013: £600,000) and Ebitda of £180,000 (2013: £130,000), Average occupancy for the hotel was 76% (2013: 74%) with the deli counter having an average of 80 daily visits (2013: 71).”

Marston’s set to convert another 150 pubs to franchise, plans another five lodges: Marston’s chief executive Ralph Findlay has told Propel the company could convert another 100 to 150 pubs to its 550-strong franchised model – the pubs will come from its tenanted division and include smaller managed pubs. The model was created in 2009 and Findlay reported the “model has got better”. “We’ve started to get our first multiple franchisees in place – one has three sites now,” he said. “Like-for-like sales growth in our taverns division (of 2%) has been driven by our franchised pubs.” Findlay reported Marston’s receive more applications for its franchised pubs than for any other type of agreement, with licensees attracted by the stability of the model. The division is likely to grow to between 650 and 700 pubs in the next 12 to 15 months, he added. Findlay reported a “terrific year” for Marston’s beer division with volume up 5%, driven largely by the off-trade. The launch of Hobgoblin Gold and craft-style beers such as Revisionist and Shipyard had been “hugely successful”. Findlay said Marston’s had opened three lodges during the year – in Dunbar, Loch Lomond and Whitby – and would open five more in the coming year, with up to 40 bedrooms each. The lodges are located alongside new-build pubs and provide synergies and trading stability to sites. The company also plans to grow its new Generous George brand to seven sites, two of which will be the conversion of the pair of Greene King pubs it bought out of the package of 16 the Suffolk-based operator placed on the market to meet competition issues arising out of the acquisition of Spirit Pub Company. Like-for-likes have strengthened in recent weeks after the “disappointing” weather of the summer gave way to better weather in September, added Findlay.

West Yorkshire pub owner and entrepreneur setting up gin distillery in Keighley: West Yorkshire entrepreneur Marcus Lund, who owns real ale pub Fanny’s Ale House and cheese brand Fanny’s Farmhouse Cheese, is setting up a gin distillery in Keighley. Lund is launching Fanny’s Distilling Company, which will be housed in a derelict barn next to his house, creating five jobs. All manufacturing, bottling and administrative work will be done from the site distillery, which should be fully operational by the end of this year. The restoration work is being done with help from a six-figure funding deal from Royal Bank of Scotland. Lund told Insider Media: “It is great that the funding is now in place and I am able to kickstart the development work on the building for our distillery. I’m planning for 90% of the production to be focused on our gin but am also looking into producing a small sideline of Absinthe.” Jon Haw, relationship manager at Royal Bank of Scotland, added: “Marcus has a great insight into the drinks industry and has developed a real opportunity in the popular craft gin market.”

Former Modern British Inns boss to open new burger restaurant concept next month as third site: Former Modern British Inns boss Ian Wade will open his third site next month, a new burger restaurant concept in Chester. Wade is launching Burger Shed 41 on Monday, 16 November in Bridge Street. It is described as a “cool burger joint”; a UK take on a classic New York burger bar with an industrial meets vintage interior. It will also serve hot dogs, milkshakes and craft beers. Wade told the Chester Chronicle: “We’re hoping to offer the best burgers, dogs, shakes and craft beers cooked by the best chefs and served by the best staff where everyone comes back.” He also owns The Ring O Bells pub in Christleton and pizza restaurant Urbano 32 in Chester city centre.

Rosa’s adds to management team, considers recruiting experienced investor to speed-up roll-out: Rosa’s Thai Cafe founder Alex Moore is considering the recruitment of an experienced sector investor to accelerate the brand’s roll-out. The company has secured a new central London site and two new appointments – a property and development consultant and an operations manager. The six-strong group of Thai cafes, founded by Moore with his Thai wife Saiphan, has secured a 1,300 square foot site on Wilton Street, Victoria. The restaurant is set to open as a pop-up Laos cafe later this year, before the site undergoes extensive renovations in the new year to become the seventh Rosa’s Thai Cafe. Meanwhile, Ed Francis has joined the company as operations manager. He brings nine years of industry experience working across some of London’s best restaurant and bar venues, including six years with Soho House Group. Stephen Evans takes on the role of property and development consultant. Alex Moore said: “There is a growing appetite in the UK for more adventurous cuisines – with south east Asian cuisine, and Thai in particular, set to see the strongest growth in the branded restaurant market segment. The new additions to the team will help us take the business through its next stage of growth which may even involve bringing an experienced industry investor on board to accelerate our roll-out.”

Comedy Store adds £567,282 to directors’ remuneration as clubs’ revenue grows: Comedy Store, the live comedy venue business with sites in Leicester Square and Manchester led by Ron Ward, has boosted directors’ remuneration to £656,499 from £89,217 in the most recent year to 31 July 2014. It stated: “Once the effect of this change in remuneration policy is removed, underlying profits of the business remain in line with previous years.” Turnover was £6,522,116, compared to £8,255,710 the year before. Operating profit was £108,579, compared to £739,137 the year prior. The Comedy Store clubs saw growth in revenue but its “volatile management division has not reached the peaks of recent years”. It added: “The management division has been thriving in recent years and helped develop a number of comedy superstars. (It) operates from a low overhead base and despite a reduction of revenue the division has still made a positive contribution to overall profits. Early indications for 2015 (performance) are positive.”

Five Guys set to open second restaurant in Cardiff: Better burger brand Five Guys is set to open its second restaurant in Cardiff. The company, which launched its first venue in the city at the Brewery Quarter in March, has secured a site at The Red Dragon Centre in Cardiff Bay. The restaurant, which does not currently have an opening date, would be Five Guy’s third site in Wales with the company due to open a restaurant in Swansea later this month. The brand, formed in the US in 1986 by the Murrell family, opened its first restaurant in the UK in Covent Garden, London, in July 2013.

Simon French reiterates ‘Sell’ recommendation on Domino’s shares amid growing competition:
Cenkos Securities leisure analyst Simon French has reiterated his ‘Sell’ recommendation on Domino’s shares, stressing increasing competition in its segment. He stated: “Domino’s has announced a strong quarter three trading performance with group system sales up 19.4% driven by UK like-for-like sales growth of 14.9%. Encouragingly, Germany is showing some signs of progress with like-for-like sales up 14.2%, albeit against a weak comparable. Ireland like-for-like sales increased 14.1% and Switzerland 5.3%. Given the strong quarter three performance and a solid start to quarter four the group expects fiscal year results to be ahead of expectations (Consensus: £65.0m profit before tax); we expect consensus profit before tax to move up 4%-6%. Pre-upgrades the stock trades on a 2016E price-to-earnings ratio of 26.0x and an EV/Ebitda of 18.9x reflecting the group’s current strong trading performance and ongoing forecast upgrades but failing to take into account the potential negative impact from an increasingly competitive food delivery market (Just Eat, Hungry House, Deliveroo etc) including the not yet launched PizzaExpress Delivery offer, which is expected to scale to 150 units within five years. We therefore reiterate our ‘Sell’ recommendation.”

New champagne tasting bar concept to open in Harrogate next Thursday: A new champagne tasting bar concept will launch in Harrogate next Thursday (22 October). The Champagne Concept, which is the brainchild of Laurence and Gemma Page-Connolly, is opening in Oxford Road. The site will stock a range of 35 to 40 varieties of champagne, which can be sampled in store or purchased to enjoy at home. It will also operate as a bar for pre-dinner or pre-theatre drinks. Laurence Page-Connolly told Insider Media: “The British tend to think of champagne in terms of the big brand names because others just aren’t available here but there are many others to choose from. We were inspired to open the bar after visiting similar shops during visits to the Épernay region in France and realising that nothing similar existed back home. Harrogate seemed like the perfect place to showcase some of these wonderful champagnes with their great family histories.”

JD Wetherspoon eyes Lutterworth police station conversion: JD Wetherspoon has submitted plans to convert the former town police station in Lutterworth, Leicestershire, (population: 9,353) to a pub. The building is located at the corner of Gilmorton Road and Leicester Road and holds grade II-listed status. The complex it is part of was constructed back in 1843 and housed both the magistrates’ court and police station at one time. Karen Pritchard, heritage and design consultant, stated in her impact assessment: “This is a vacant site within the town centre and conservation area, that has lost its original use. The proposal is to alter the use and to bring all the buildings back into one coherent function for the public to enjoy.” Harborough District Council’s planning committee will make a final decision about the proposal at a later date.

Greene King lines up new-build Hungry Horse pub in Ely: Greene King is lining up a new-build Hungry Horse pub/restaurant in Ely, Cambridgeshire. The company has applied to East Cambridgeshire District Council for a premises licence for a site being built at the new £16m Ely Leisure Village in Downham Road. It is asking for permission to sell alcohol every day between 10am and midnight. The scheme, being developed by Turnstone Estates includes a number of restaurants including The Restaurant Group brand Frankie & Benny’s, McDonald’s and KFC as well as a Cineworld cinema. A Turnstone Estates spokesman told the Ely News: “We are making great progress in the lettings for the Ely Leisure Village. We will be able to make a full announcement soon confirming which restaurants will be coming to the city.”

BrewDog launches ‘world’s strongest canned beer’: Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog has launched what it claims to be the strongest canned beer in the world. The company has produced Black Eyed King Imp – a 12.7% ABV Russian imperial stout. It is available from BrewDog’s online shop and goes on sale at its bars at 6pm tonight (Thursday, 15 October). The company stated: “Yes, today we are announcing a hugely exciting new aluminium-clad marvel – a small-batch release set to push craft canning into the stratosphere. Black Eyed King Imp. In cans. The highest-ABV beer ever packaged in this manner, by anyone. It has been racked in first fill bourbon whisky casks ever since, and then further aged on coffee beans and vanilla pods to create a Vietnamese coffee-inspired edition. This final addition really highlights the oaky vanilla elements from the wood, and the balance of espresso and cacao adds layers of lustrous complexity to the finish, mingling with warming spicy brandy notes. The highest-ABV craft beer ever placed in cans. Get ready to unleash the Imp.”

D&D London to open German Gymnasium on 12 November:
D&D London is to open German Gymnasium within the newly renovated grade II-listed former gymnasium in King’s Cross on Thursday, 12 November. German-born executive chef Bjoern Wassmuth, previously kitchen director at Fairmont Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten in Hamburg, has created broad-ranging menus featuring some classic Mittel-European dishes as a nod to the site’s German heritage. The dining areas will encompass one of King’s Cross’ largest al fresco terraces, a patisserie counter, an all-day Grand Café serving breakfast through to dinner, a restaurant and the Meister Bar.

Hot Copper paid £1.7m to acquire Southampton freehold: Agent Fleurets has reported new brewpub company Hot Copper, which will be operated by the management of Brewhouse & Kitchen, which will apply its brewpub operating format, paid £1,720,000 to acquire the freehold of the Grazing Goat (formerly the Highfield), in Highfield Lane, Southampton, for £1,720,000. The Grazing Goat is currently trading as a high-quality gastro-pub. Ed Sandall, divisional director of Fleurets, which acted for Hot Copper, said: “This was an opportunistic acquisition where our clients were considering acquiring the short leasehold only – we were able to leverage our contacts to simultaneously secure a surrender of an intermediary leasehold interest (by Punch) and acquire the freehold investment. The key was identifying the motivations of each party to the transaction and the marriage value to Brewhouse & Kitchen.” Kris Grumbrell, chairman of Brewhouse & Kitchen, said: “I have to say that this is the most complicated but I think the most creative freehold pub deal I have been involved with, there were a number of moving parts in the process, but we are delighted with the end result.”

Burning Night Group partners Captive Media for Betsafe Rugby Challenge: Bar chain Burning Night Group has partnered Captive Media into running the Betsafe Rugby Challenge, using Captive Media’s screen network. The campaign offers a unique new way for rugby fans to get involved in the Rugby World Cup – and even win tickets to the final, by testing their skill in a novel video game. Burning Night Group digital marketing manager Tom Lawson said: “We love the Captive Media screens – they go down so well with our punters, and the Rugby World Cup is an especially busy time for us. The chance to win Rugby World Cup final tickets in our venues is a nice way to reward our loyal customers. It’s also creating a buzz and great talking point – and not only among the chaps. The girls are talking about it too.”

North-east based chef to launch first restaurant venture next Tuesday, eyes further opportunities: North east-based chef Andrew Drape will launch his first restaurant venture next Tuesday – and is eyeing further opportunities. Drape, who has worked at Newcastle venues including Barn Asia and Sohe, is opening River Beat on Gateshead quayside, creating five jobs. He has invested more than £50,000 transforming Pipewellgate House into the restaurant, which will offer tapas with an Asian twist. Built in 1845, the building once housed the old River Police Station, and in recent years has been home to a succession of restaurants, most recently the South Bank Grill. Drape told Chronicle Live: “I thought what the town was missing was a good independent tapas restaurant, offering a bit more choice, where everything is fresh and made from scratch.” Drape said he eventually hopes to take on more staff and perhaps launch similar restaurants elsewhere in the north east. “River Beat has a strong brand, and I could look to open a few more in a similar style,” he said. “It would be good to use old buildings like churches or other police stations, if all goes well, but without the first one losing its appeal.”

Papa John’s franchisee plans 20-strong estate as he opens ninth site: Papa John’s franchisee Ahmed Eldessouki has opened his ninth site, this time located in Brighton. He plans to open a further eleven outlets along the south coast and in south London within the next five years. “Over the years, with funding from the bank, support from Papa John’s, plus the company’s special franchisee incentive offers, I have been able to grow a successful business, employing more than 100 people across all my stores,” said Eldessouki. “Brighton is the latest exciting addition. It’s a thriving town of more than a quarter of a million population including a large student community, so really does offer a hot opportunity.”

Tokyo Group reports return to pre-tax profit: Nightclub operator Tokyo Group, led by Aaron Mellor, has reported a return to pre-tax profit for the year ending 31 December 2014. The announcement came in a filing with Companies House of a financial statement covering five of the 32 sites controlled by Tokyo Industries – Digital in Newcastle and Brighton, which has now closed and been rented to a third party, and Tokyo in Oldham, Huddersfield and Newcastle. It reported ”another strong set of results in what continues to be a competitive market place” for the venues financially backed by Barclays. The company recorded a pre-tax profit of £1,591,470, compared to a loss of £1,130,838 the year before despite a slight fall in turnover to £5,118,732 (2013: 5,156,824). The company stated: “Whilst we continue to be ambitious in our programme of expansion, we have taken the opportunity to consolidate this year and rather than expand, we have commenced a programme of upgrading our venues and diversifying our business. We have invested heavily in Digital Newcastle, which now offers a live music experience as well as regular club nights. As a direct result admissions for 2014 have increased by 16% year-on-year, whilst revenues have increased by 25%! This has given us confidence that the strategy we have employed is working. Group turnover of £5.1m is broadly in line year-on-year despite Digital Brighton ceasing trading in June 2014. This has largely been achieved due to the success of Digital Newcastle although we also recognised a one off premium in regards to the Brighton lease disposal. Gross profit margin was 81% versus prior year of 77%. Direct costs and overheads continue to be well controlled and the centralisation of our administrative processes (following the company restructure last year), has been instrumental in helping us achieve this. Operating profit was £1,279,500 versus a profit of £779,400 in the prior year. A further program of investment is planned which will primarily focus on maximising the revenue opportunities at some of our larger venues, for example Huddersfield. This strategy has proven successful in schemes we have run in both Newcastle and York, however we plan to expand this further by incorporating food operations. We have acquired a share in a new and exciting award-winning food venture and plan to open a series of standalone restaurants and takeaway venues over the next year. This will operate via a new company that sits outside of the group, however we plan to utilise the expertise when launching the food concepts within the group. The director is very pleased with the results and continues to look for suitable sites for further additions to the estate.”

Ginsters maker reports record year: Sales have risen by more than £45m at Samworth Brothers, the owner of Cornish pasty maker Ginsters, newly filed accounts have revealed. Directors said they are “cautious but optimistic” for the future, despite describing the market as “very challenging”. Sales increased to £836.9m for the year to 28 December 2014, up from £791.4m in the previous 12 months. Pre-tax profit increased to £41.8m during the year from £33.4m. A statement signed off on behalf of directors said product innovation and recipe development are “fundamental” to Samworth Brothers’ growth and it has “invested heavily” in its kitchens, chefs and staff. The statement added: “The market place is very challenging, but by working closely with our major customers, we will seek out new opportunities in 2015 as basis for further growth.” Samworth Brothers comprises 16 businesses, including Ginsters, Soreen and Melton Mowbray pork pie maker Dickinson & Morris. It employs almost 7,400 staff at sites in Leicestershire and Cornwall.

Agellus Hotels grows estate to five with Marco Pierre White brace: The Lifeboat Inn and the Chequers Inn in Thornham, Norfolk, have been sold by agent Fleurets to hotel group Agellus Hotels. Both pubs were previously owned by celebrity chef Marco Pierre White but they were put on the market earlier this year. They were sold on the instructions of the joint administrators of Victory Inns Property UK and Agamenon Inns Property UK. The Lifeboat is a 16th-century inn with 13 en-suite bedrooms, a 70-cover restaurant, character bar and a breakfast room. The Chequers occupies a prominent position fronting the A149. It is a grade II-listed 17th-century inn with a traditional bar, 70-cover restaurant, 12 en-suite letting bedrooms, separate cottage and a studio. Fleurets reported strong interest in both properties. Agellus Hotels is a privately owned hotel company that owns and manages a select group of restaurants with rooms, gastro-pubs and boutique hotels. The company specialises in distinctive individual properties offering exceptional food, accommodation and service. Other Agellus owned properties include the Tuddenham Mill, near Newmarket, the Westleton Crown and the Ship, in Dunwich. Rufus Harper, operations director of Agellus, said: “This is an exciting time for Agellus Hotels. The Lifeboat and The Chequers are properties we have known and admired for some time and we felt the acquisitions presented an opportunity for us to bring some investment and experience to them to get them back to their glorious best. We are looking forward to building on the hotels existing character and reputation and developing the offers with the teams on site to delight our future guests. We are confident they will once again be two of the best places on the north Norfolk coast to stay, dine and unwind.”

Speaker programme for Propel Multi Club Conference unveiled: The full speaker programme for the Propel Multi Club Conference on Thursday, 5 November at the Lancaster, London, the best-attended conference series in the sector, has been unveiled. Ian King, presenter of the Sky News show, Ian King Live, and former Business and City editor of The Times, looks at the key economic trends over the past 12 months and the 12 months ahead and gives his views on their impact on the hospitality sector. Peter Hansen, founder of leading mergers and acquisitions advisory Sapient Corporate Finance, which has advised on sector transactions worth more than £2bn in the past five years, looks at the key sector trends in 2015 for those buying and selling businesses. Andrew Ball, of accountancy firm haysmacintyre, offers his top tips on tax minimisation for multi-site operators. Paul Harbottle, commercial director of Enterprise Inns, talks about building an 800-strong managed pub estate and investment and progress in the leased and tenanted part of the business. Toby Smith, chief executive of Novus Leisure, explains how the company is evolving its food, drink and entertainment offer, along with digital capability, to stay at the forefront of the late-night market in London and the regions. Martin Wolstencroft, founder of Arc Inspirations, arguably Yorkshire’s most successful independent bar and restaurant operator, talks about running multiple concepts, overcoming challenges, best-in-class profit conversion, innovation and expanding over the Pennines in the company’s 15th year. Scott Shaw, founder and chairman of marketing and information analysis business Fishbowl, explains how US restaurant businesses are using guest information to drive marketing and sales. He is joined by data expert Mike Lukianoff, founder of Czar Metrics, now owned by Fishbowl, who will talk about the ground-breaking work his company is doing in the US with a host of well-known restaurant brands, using data to shape menu and price engineering, media efficiency and trade area analytics. Nick Collins, managing director of Loungers, talks about evolving the brand, maintaining company culture, fulfilling growth ambitions, new trading locations and stepping into the shoes of founder Alex Reilley. Kris Gumbrell and Simon Bunn, co-founders of Brewhouse & Kitchen, talk about how they have developed the UK’s largest brewpub chain, food quality, recruiting brewers, brewing experiences, EIS funding and the market potential for the company. Ann Elliott, chief executive of leading sector public relations and marketing firm Elliotts, presents the findings of a survey of senior industry executives on the subject of “outstanding leadership”. Elliotts strategy director James Hacon talks to former Spirit chief executive Mike Tye, Thorley Taverns operations director Phil Thorley, Ego Restaurants chief executive James Horler and Ann Elliott about the principles of high quality leadership.

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