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Mon 8th Jul 2019 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Puttshack boss sees potential for 50 UK and 300 US sites: Joe Vrankin, the new chief executive of indoor mini-golf experience Puttshack, has told Propel there’s potential for up to 50 sites in the UK and 300 in the US. The company is set to accelerate expansion following the completion of a £27m equity raise with lead investor Promethean Investments. Vrankin helped grow TopGolf from one site into what is now a multibillion-dollar business as chief executive. Now he aims to do something similar with Puttshack and has joined founders Adam Breeden, co-founder of All-Star Lanes, Bounce and Flight Club, and Steve and Dave Jolliffe, founders of TopGolf, on a mission to “transform the international leisure and entertainment sector”. The original Puttshack opened in July 2018 at Westfield London White City, amassing 300,000 visitors. Two more will launch this year – at the Intu Lakeside shopping centre in Essex later this summer and No 1 Poultry in the City in the autumn. Vrankin said: “It is an unbelievable product and opportunity and we’re in the right place at the right time, both in the UK and US. I think we can have between 40 and 50 in the UK and 300 locations in the US.” He added there was probably room for three more venues in London but the company was already scoping potential sites in other UK cities. Its planned UK expansion would see Puttshack open one venue every 12 weeks, beginning in 2020. Vrankin revealed its next five sites were “pretty much in place”, while it is in advanced talks on another four or five. He added: “We believe we can play a big role in encouraging people back to the high street and driving footfall for landlords. More than 40% of people who have been to our site at Westfield London had never been to the shopping centre before or visited in more than a year.” Regarding its US plans, Vrankin said Puttshack was close to signing for its first site. His aim is to have two secured by the start of 2020 and one of them open by this time next year. After that, the company would look to open four in 2021 and eight in 2022 before accelerating that expansion to 20 venues a year. Cities initially being looked at include Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Atlanta and Miami. Puttshack will then target secondary markets such as Nashville and San Antonio. Beyond the UK and US, Vrankin said he believes there are opportunities across the globe for Puttshack. He added: “Despite the fact we only have one site operating, we are getting calls from every corner of the world. It shows there’s a lot of interest out there in our concept. We know what we want to do and now it’s about making sure our teams on the ground, who I believe are the most important people in our business, buy into that vision and help us deliver it.” Puttshack is the only mini-golf brand in the world that combines automatic tracking and scoring technology within the ball, which the company said resulted in “significantly enhanced game play”.

Industry News:

Nominations invited for Wireless Social Female Entrepreneur of the Year: Propel is inviting nominations for the Wireless Social Entrepreneur of the Year, which will be presented on Thursday, 12 September at the end of the Women’s Entrepreneur Conference. Readers are invited to send their nominations to Propel managing director Paul Charity at paul.charity@propelinfo.com. Building on last year’s debut event, the sector’s only conference to feature an all-female line-up of company leaders, more sector-leading female entrepreneurs will share their stories and expertise alongside two panel sessions. Propel has partnered with Elliotts chief executive Ann Elliott for the full-day event, which will be held at One Moorgate Place, London, and is open for bookings – for men as well as women. Speakers will be Bartlett Mitchell founder Wendy Bartlett, West Brewery founder Petra Wetzel, Chai by Mira founder Mira Manek, Filmore & Union founder Adele Ashley, Tonkotsu founder Emma Reynolds, Giggling Squid founder Pranee Laurillard, sushi expert and KellyDeli head of food product innovation Silla Bjerrum, Stanley Pubs founder Amanda Pritchett, Seafood Pub Company founder Joycelyn Neve, and Prezzo executive chairman Karen Jones. Also taking part are Kanishka Holdings managing director Tina English, Livelyhood chief executive and owner Sarah Wall, Oatopia owner Tamar Coleman, The Chilli Pickle founder Dawn Sperring, Bombay Burrito owner Maria Savage, Farmer Copleys owner Heather Copley, Goldfinger Factory founder Marie Cudennec, Hola Guacamole owner Margarita Garcia, and Yum Bun founder Lisa Meyer. Tickets are £295 plus VAT for Propel Premium subscribers and £345 plus VAT for others. They can be booked by emailing anne.steele@propelinfo.com or calling her on 01444 817691.

Sector like-for-likes fall 3.3% in June as operators feel World Cup effect: Sector like-for-like sales fell 3.3% in June, according to S4Labour, the online labour-scheduling management system from Catton Hospitality, as operators felt the effects of last year's Fifa World Cup. According to analysis of more than 100 organisations that use S4Labour software, sales of food and drink both took a hit this June. As well as the World Cup effect, tough trading conditions coupled with lower temperatures and higher rainfall meant many operators struggled to reproduce the same performance in June 2019 as they did last year. The story in drinks-led venues was an overall drop of 4.6% in like-for-likes compared with June 2018. Food-focused businesses also saw a drop in like-for-like sales, although the impact was less acute. Food sales remained relatively steady with only a 0.3% decline, while drinks sales fell 3.9%. S4Labour said food sales in food-led pubs had been “quite resilient this year”, while drinks-focused operators had experienced “much more fluctuation” and had been “more susceptible to exterior factors”.

Best Bar None expands reach: Best Bar None, the Home Office-supported community safety programme operated by pubs and bars in the UK, has expanded its reach in the first half of 2019 and expects to launch at least seven more regional schemes by the end of the year. Programmes have been launched in Whitehaven, Carlisle, Workington and Biggleswade, the latter of which will be managed under the Central Bedfordshire scheme. Torquay’s scheme has also been extended to include Brixham and Paignton, and is now known as the Torbay scheme. Meanwhile, the central scheme continues to expand as pubs and bars around the country that aren’t near a regional scheme apply to be assessed for inclusion. The central scheme is operated and administered by the Best Bar None head office team. Other than that, it operates in the same way as a regional scheme. Best Bar None chairman Lord Smith of Hindhead said: “Best Bar None continues to go from strength to strength. We have already launched four regional schemes this year and expect to launch at least seven more in the second half of the year. The central scheme is also picking up as more pubs and bars apply for, and pass, the assessment process.”

Job of the week: COREcruitment is looking for a European director of operations who would be based in London with a salary of £150,000. A spokesman said: “Hospitality for this client is a way of life. Its whole senior management team is obsessed with guest service and customer satisfaction. The business has been through a substantial period of growth and we’re looking for a character who can lead teams and is great with process and adding in (relevant) structure. Some European language and business opening experience would be a benefit. We are looking for candidates who have worked with businesses that target growth demographics and trends. Hotel/accommodation experience preferred. For a confidential chat, email: Lara@corecruitment.com

Company News:

Caring acquires former Barbecoa site in St Paul’s: Sector investor Richard Caring, who backs Caprice Holdings, The Ivy Collection and Bill’s, has acquired Jamie Oliver’s former Barbecoa site in London’s St Paul’s, Propel has learned. Caring has secured the site in the One New Change scheme out of administration and is believed to be in talks to acquire up to a further three sites formerly operated by the high-profile chef. One New Change Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group, purchased the assets and lease of Barbecoa St Paul’s out of administration last year. That company was subsequently placed into administration earlier this year as part of the collapse of Oliver’s UK restaurant business, including 18 Jamie’s Italians, which are being marketed by Christie & Co. It is unclear what Caring intends to do with the One New Change site, although there has been speculation a second The Ivy Asia might be part of his plans. He has also been looking for sites for his fledgling Harry’s Bar concept and for a mooted Sexy Elephant restaurant. Last month, Giggling Squid acquired the former Jamie’s Italian site in Cambridge, while chef Simon Shaw acquired the Jamie’s in Leeds for a third site under his tapas restaurant concept El Gato Negro.

Chilango eyes further expansion in London, like-for-likes up more than 5%: Mexican brand Chilango has told Propel it’s looking to open more sites in London following the launch of its second regional site, in Birmingham’s Colmore Row last week, its second outside the capital after its site in Manchester and 12th in total. It celebrated the Birmingham opening by launching a plant-based burrito in collaboration with the team from TH!S – a plant-based protein-substitute that “looks and tastes like chicken”. The Birmingham launch followed a 5.7% increase in like-for-like sales in the group’s previous quarter. The company said Colmore Row had opened “flawlessly” and it was now looking at “further sites in London on the back of the success of our ten locations in the city”. Dan Houghton, co-founder and chief executive, said: “Birmingham has a great food scene, a fantastic buzz and a vibrancy that perfectly aligns with why we started Chilango.” Regarding the TH!S collaboration, Chilango marketing director Katie Lister said: “We are collaborating on a truly ground-breaking and innovative product. A significant proportion of our guests are now vegan or flexitarian. Birmingham is the perfect city for us to pre-launch our partnership with TH!S, with nine of our London restaurants and our Manchester restaurant joining them on 23 July.”

Marston’s to consider options for Pitcher & Piano estate: Marston’s is to consider options for its Pitcher & Piano business, which currently operates circa 20 sites across England and Wales. The company is understood to be working with advisory firm Sapient Corporate Finance on assessing its options for the brand. However, it’s thought this process is at a very early stage and it isn’t certain it will lead to a sale of the business. It is also understood the Pitcher & Piano estate, which is prominently based in city and town centres including City of London, Birmingham, Bristol and Nottingham, is valued significantly higher than the £30m price tag that has been touted in a media report. Marston’s acquired the then seven-strong Pitcher & Piano business from entrepreneur Crispin Tweddell in 1996 for £20m. It’s thought if a sale option is taken up, Stonegate Pub Company could be among the interested parties for the brand. The company opened its first site for five years under the brand last year in Sheffield, with a further site set to open in Durham’s Milburngate development. It’s thought the early success of the Sheffield opening has given the group confidence to look at further opportunities for the brand. Pitcher & Piano is part of Marston’s Premium division, which also includes the Revere Pub Company, with both led by managing director Colin Sadler. Marston’s and Sapient both declined to comment. 

SA Brain appoints finance director: Welsh brewer and retailer SA Brain has appointed a new finance director, Propel has learned. Hannah Heath will join the company from clothing retailer JoJo Maman Bebe in early November to help drive the next stage of SA Brain’s development. Heath replaces Martin Reed, who has left the company after 17 years having most recently helped with Alistair Darby’s initial period as SA Brain’s new chief executive. During his time with the company, Reed played a central role in the business’ corporate development and was responsible for a broad range of critical support functions. Among the projects he has been involved in have been the acquisition of Coffee#1 in 2011 and its subsequent joint venture with Caffe Nero this year, as well as the redevelopment of SA Brain’s former brewery in Cardiff and move to its new home in nearby Pacific Business Park.

Spudulike seeks CVA: Baked potato specialist Spudulike is seeking landlords’ backing for a rescue restructure involving rent cuts and closures as part of the sector’s latest CVA. The chain wants to close at least four of its 31 outlets. Landlords, who are being asked to approve the changes next week, said they were being asked to slash rents to about 10% of turnover and offer a business rates holiday to keep Spudulike afloat. It is understood advisory firm Leonard Curtis has been appointed to lead the process. However, landlords said they were shocked by the scale of rent cuts demanded by Spudulike, which were “much more severe” than companies have sought previously. “If you compare it to Arcadia, it’s much more demanding,” one landlord said. Another said creditors hadn’t been consulted about the “shocking” proposals. The restructure attempt follows a difficult period of trading for London-based Spudulike, which is controlled by entrepreneur Tony Schlesinger. Parent company T&G Fast Foods Developments reported a pre-tax loss of £1m in the year to December 2017, similar to the year before, as sales slid 3% to £12.3m. At that time it employed almost 300 people, according to accounts filed at Companies House.

Modern pub concept in Leeds to close eight months after opening: A “modern pub” concept in Leeds is to shut only eight months after opening. Dough In The City took over a former Indian takeaway on New Briggate in December 2018 and is run by chefs Luke Downing, Jonathan Hawthorne and Laura Macleod, who also own adjacent fine dining restaurant Vice and Virtue. Dough In The City was originally a bistro that Downing ran in West Park and the new incarnation had late opening hours, Sunday lunch service and kitchen takeovers by guest chefs. The Vice and Virtue team has now confirmed the Dough In The City concept will close but the premises would become a new site for its hipster cafe brand, Feed. The first Feed opened in Pudsey in summer 2018 and has proved “hugely popular”.

Harry Ramsden partners with Mecca Bingo: Fish and chip chain Harry Ramsden, owned by Boparan Restaurant Group, has partnered with Mecca Bingo to roll out its offering to more than 70 locations across the UK through its Proudly Serving Harry Ramsden concept. Launching this week, Harry Ramsden’s fish and chips, together with other selected items from the brand’s menu, will be available at Mecca’s bingo halls. Mecca will also make the Harry Ramsden offering available to customers via home delivery in selected areas. Proudly Serving Harry Ramsden is a new branded menu proposition for restaurant, pub and catering partners in the UK. It is the latest innovation from the brand, which earlier this year opened The Laughing Fish by Harry Ramsden with franchise partner Resorts World Genting Malaysia. Malcolm Heslop, business development manager for Harry Ramsden, said: “Our aim is to make Harry Ramsden as accessible to as many people as possible because it is a much-loved brand with many loyal fans at home and overseas. To that end, we’re always looking for new and innovative ways to expand and share our menu. With the loyal and dedicated following bingo enjoys, Mecca is an ideal partner.” Mecca Bingo national food and beverage manager Cath Hannam added: “It is exciting to bring two iconic British brands together, merging traditions and giving our customers the opportunity to enjoy world-class fish and chips while they play. Our teams have been working hard behind the scenes to get everything ready and we know our customers will love the partnership as much as we do.”

The Johnson Collective aims to build eight-strong West Country portfolio after taking on first pub in region: London-based multiple operator The Johnson Collective is aiming to build a portfolio of eight sites in the West Country during the next five years after taking on its first pub in the region. The company, founded by former Drake & Morgan alumni Taskin Muzaffer, Pru Clarke and Gareth Crosby, will run The Unicorn On The Beach in Porthtowan, Cornwall. The Heineken-owned Star Pubs & Bars property is undergoing a joint £350,000 refurbishment. It is The Johnson Collective’s second pub with Star Pubs & Bars having just taken on the Grand Union in London’s Chancery Lane, which will reopen at the end of September as bar restaurant Shutters. Also in the collective are two pubs, two restaurants and a London distillery that produces Little Bird Gin. The Unicorn On The Beach will reopen in late August. Five en-suite bedrooms are also being created and a Surf House, which will sleep 20 people in luxury pods in New England-style dorm rooms. The pub is being reconfigured to create five areas – a bar, snug, dining-style conservatory, games room with snooker and darts, and a cinema room. Muzaffer said: “We have wanted to open a pub in Cornwall for some time and The Unicorn On the Beach ticks all our boxes – a fantastic beach-side location, a site with unrealised potential, and an opportunity to provide accommodation for the increasing number of staycationers and surf enthusiasts. The leased and tenanted model is great for us as it doesn’t tie up our capital and we can grow more quickly. We’re looking for more West Country sites and aim to have around eight sites within five years.” Neil Convery, regional operations director for Star Pubs & Bars, added: “We are delighted to co-invest with The Johnson Collective to create a unique pub with rooms and great locally sourced food in an incredible beach-side location.”

Happy Bird lands in London with Fuller’s residency: The Happy Bird chicken concept, which focuses on ethical produce and has received backing from former Domino’s chief executive Chris Moore, has landed in London with a residency at a Fuller’s pub. Happy Bird has taken over the kitchen and dining area at The Fine Line pub in Bow Churchyard in the City. The Happy Bird offer is available to eat in, grab and go or for delivery, while Happy Bird also plans to operate a street food cart outside the pub at lunchtimes selling a Nashville hot chicken sandwich. Propel understands the residency is a one-off and there are no current plans to roll out. Happy Bird founder Adam Batty told Propel: “It is a very exciting opportunity for us as it’s a superb location with a good number of covers and lots of outside space. We have developed an exciting new menu to complement Fuller’s range of draught and bottled beer and offer its customers something new on the food side. We think our high-welfare chicken, sides and homemade sauces will go down a storm in the City.” A Fuller’s spokesman added: “We have a few pop-ups within our pubs and this is something new for a great craft beer site in the city.” Happy Bird launched in Bristol in January 2018.

Sayers the Bakers bids to improve profitability after loss: North west-based independent retail bakery Sayers the Bakers has put a number of actions in place as it looks to improve profitability after slipping to a loss on the back of adverse weather conditions and a significant fall in high-street footfall. The company saw turnover fall slightly to £48,034,000 for the year ending 30 September 2018, compared with £48,307,000 the previous year. It reported an operating loss of £434,000 compared with a profit of £159,000 the year before, and a pre-tax loss of £546,000 compared with a profit of £34,000 the previous year. In their report accompanying the accounts, the directors stated: “Sales for the year were affected by adverse weather conditions in the winter and summer months, where we saw significant drops in high-street footfall. There has also been considerable pressure on material costs. A number of actions have already been put in place to improve profitability for the year ended 30 September 2019. These include shop openings, a return to converting certain Sayers shops to our successful Poundbakery brand and strong control of the cost base, especially on material and employment costs.” Sayers the Bakers was established by Fred and Lylian Sayer in 1912 and has more than 150 stores throughout the region.

Oodles Chinese to make Yorkshire debut after securing Leeds site: Indo-Chinese concept Oodles Chinese is to make its Yorkshire debut after securing a site in Leeds. The company will open a 58-cover restaurant at the Merrion Centre next month after agreeing a deal with owner Town Centre Securities. Oodles, which currently operates seven sites, serves Indo-Chinese dishes such as Malaysian chicken, chilli chicken, Chinese lamb curry, chilli prawns, teriyaki chicken, beef stir fry and crispy prawns. The brand is certificated halal and also offers vegetarian options. Brand manager Abid Mahmood said: “We are thrilled to introduce the people of Yorkshire to our concept. We chose the Merrion Centre due to its prime location near the university, city centre offices, and the First Direct Arena.” Helen Green, associate director for Town Centre Securities, added: “We are resolutely committed to expanding the variety of international food and drink options available at the Merrion Centre and Oodles Chinese is an exciting and growing brand.” Oodles opened its first site in 2010 and said earlier this year it aims to open another ten sites by 2020.

C&C Group to launch Dublin brewpub: Drinks company C&C Group is to open a brewpub in Dublin. The Five Lamps brewpub will launch in the next six to eight weeks at a former Deluxe Cinema in Camden Street, which more recently housed The Camden Hotel and Palace Nightclub. The building has been refurbished by an unknown pub group, with C&C Group taking a lease for the upstairs that will serve its Five Lamps Dublin Lager and food, and host a working brewery. C&C Group chief executive Stephen Glancey told the Sunday Independent the brewpub had undergone a €1m-plus investment. He said: “We wanted to have somewhere in Dublin where people could experience Five Lamps. The brewers will be there, we’ll make the beer, we’ll sell the beer.” He said the company had spoken about a similar project before but “finding a property in Dublin had proved difficult”. Glancey said the move highlighted C&C’s commitment to Ireland despite an announcement last week the company would shift its stock market listing from Dublin to London. Dublin-headquartered C&C Group owns the Drygate Brewing Co craft brewery in Glasgow, which houses a beer hall and brasserie and has a turnover of €1.5m.

Shepherd Neame trials vegan burger: Kent-based brewer and retailer Shepherd Neame is trialling a vegan burger. The Oumph! Burger is on offer at 12 of its flagship pubs in Kent and London, with the company the first in the UK to offer the product. Created from soya beans by Swedish company Food For Progress, Oumph! launched in Sweden and Norway in May. The red colour of the burger, which is gluten, dairy and nut-free, is natural and the result of adding beetroot. Shepherd Neame head development chef Simon Howlett said: “There is a growing market for vegan burgers so we decided to put a number of different brands to the test before introducing one on our menu. We asked 30 members of our team to try the burgers and every time Oumph! came top for taste and texture.”

Co-living company to launch restaurant and bar concept at new Canary Wharf site: Co-living company The Collective is to open restaurant and lounge concept Mthr at its new Canary Wharf space. Mthr will be on the 20th floor of the building and open to the public as well as members. The restaurant will open in September offering all-day dining and drinks menus, drawing inspiration from global culinary influences. In addition to offering an a la carte menu, guests will also be able to choose from dim sum food carts and the Market Table, which will have an ever-changing line-up of seasonal salads, meat and fish. At the helm of the restaurant will be head chef Arnaud Delannay, who opened Darwin Brasserie at the 20 Fenchurch Street skyscraper and has also run restaurant operations at the Trafalgar St James Hotel and been head chef at Rhubarb’s Vivi Centre Point. The Collective chief executive Reza Merchant said: “Sharing a meal is such an important medium through which we form bonds with one another and the kitchen is usually the heart of any home. We’ve designed Mthr to play this role for our members while also creating an inspiring, eclectic and accessible destination for the public to experience.” The Collective’s Canary Wharf site, which opens this month, will have 705 rooms across 21 stories. Canary Wharf will be the first co-living experience to introduce flexible leases, from a single night up to 12 months.

City Pub Group submits plans to convert former Prezzo in Exeter: City Pub Group, led by Clive Watson, has submitted plans to convert an empty Prezzo restaurant in Exeter back into a pub. City Pub Group wants to convert the grade II-listed Turk’s Head in High Street into a pub with bedrooms and a micro-brewery, reports Insider Media. A planning statement submitted with the application to the city council read: “As part of these works, six guest bedrooms will be created on the second, third and fourth floors of the building ancillary to the main use and function of the pub below. The pub, with a restaurant and micro-brewery, will reintroduce vibrancy and animation to the building.” The site has been vacant since September last year when Prezzo shut the restaurant, which had been operating since 2005.

Blaby-based coffee shop to open at Everards development for second site: Blaby-based coffee shop Jenno’s is to open its second site – at the new Everards Meadows development in Leicester. Jenno’s, which is run by father and son Paul and Danny Jenno along with Phillipa Hoare, will launch the site at the scheme being developed by Leicestershire-based brewer and retailer Everards as part of its new home. Jenno’s Coffee House at Everards Meadows will open on Monday, 22 July. The 3,250 square foot coffee house will be spread over two floors and have outdoor seating. There will be capacity for about 50 people on each floor, with 50 seats outside. Along with coffee, tea and a small selection of wine and beer, there will food available including breakfast rolls, croissants, sandwiches, toasties, paninis and soup, reports Leicestershire Live. Jenno’s original site opened in Blaby in September 2016. Everards Meadows will also be the new home of Everards’ brewery and beer hall when it opens in summer 2020.

Former Gordon Ramsay chef heads new all-day restaurant at Stratford development: Former Soho House Group and Gordon Ramsay chef Ben Harrington is to head an all-day restaurant that will open next month at The Stratford development in east London. The Stratford Brasserie has launched in the 42-storey skyscraper at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park as part of a project by Manhattan Loft Corporation, a company founded by Harry Handelsman, the man behind the restored St Pancras Hotel and Chiltern Firehouse. Located at the building’s entrance, The Stratford Brasserie acts as a “social hub” for The Stratford Hotel & Lofts, which integrates short and long-term stays. Harrington’s menu focuses on light sharing dishes featuring seasonal British ingredients. Handelsman said: “The Stratford Brasserie will be the first welcome as guests and residents enter Manhattan Loft Gardens. The skyscraper’s architecture has been designed to encourage spontaneous interaction and The Stratford Brasserie is at the heart of this.” Manhattan Loft Gardens also houses Allegra, a restaurant from former Chiltern Firehouse head chef Patrick Powell.

Taunton-based chicken burger and wings restaurant doubles up with Exeter site: Taunton-based chicken burger and wings restaurant concept Eat The Bird has doubled up with an opening in Exeter. Eat The Bird, created by Dan Aldridge and Chris Kenny, began life in 2016 as a street food stall before the friends opened a restaurant in Taunton. The Exeter venue has opened in Sidwell Street in the unit left vacant by Hubbox, the Richard Boon-led restaurant business, following its move to larger premises in the city. Aldridge told Devon Live: “It was a weird turn of events because before we opened in Taunton we were going to open in Exeter where The Milkmaid was, which is where Hubbox is now. Hubbox was my favourite restaurant when it was here and I always thought I’d love to open a restaurant like that – now here we are.” Eat The Bird’s menu features six chicken burgers and a selection of chicken wings.

Hastings Hotels reports turnover boost: Hastings Hotels, which owns and operates seven venues across Northern Ireland, has reported turnover increased 4% to £41,185,098 for the year ending 31 October 2018, compared with £39,632,526 the previous year. Operating profit fell to £3,696,902, compared with £5,365,652 the year before. Pre-tax profit was down to £3,195,817, compared with £5,235,783 the previous year. Gross margin remained at 86%, according to accounts filed at Companies House. Hastings Hotels had net assets of £46,363,222 at the end of the period, compared with £43,968,722 the year before. In their report accompanying the accounts, the directors described the financial results as “satisfactory” and pledged to continue to “seek every opportunity to increase profitable turnover”. The group opened the £53m, 300-bedroom Grand Central Hotel in Belfast last summer. Its other hotels include Belfast’s Europa, Stormont and Culloden hotels, while it also owns a 50% stake in Dublin’s Merrion Hotel.

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