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Mon 5th Mar 2012 - Weston Castle, Itsu and Brakspear

Story of the Day:

Weston Castle in talks with other tenanted operators: North-west multi-site operator Weston Castle has been approached by a number of tenanted operators after its success in pioneering the industry’s first set of freehold option leases. The company negotiated the freehold option on a group of six Thwaites pubs – three pubs were closed and the three others close to closure. It allows Weston Castle to invest in the pubs with the knowledge that it can buy the freeholds for a set price – £200,000 each - at a point in the future. For Thwaites, the deal means closed pubs or nearly closed pubs get a new lease of life. Weston Castle director Chris Tulloch told Morning Briefing: “All six pubs are cash generative after an investment of no more than £50,000 each – the average takings across the six pubs is £5,500 of wet sales per week each.” Weston Castle, which has an estate of 20 wet-led pubs, has reported a 40% increase in turnover to £3.9m after negotiating freehold option leases on the six pubs. The company saw operating profit climb to £266,587 in the year to 30 April 2011 compared to £220,653 the year before. Weston Castle is managing the six Thwaites sites until July 2013 when it can exercise an option to acquire them for £1.2m. In January this year, the company negotiated a new facility with the Nat West for £5.35m over 15 years. Admiral Taverns revealed last November that it had introduced a freehold option lease on selected sites for micro brewers entering the estate.

Propel Opinion:

Weston Castle’s freehold option lease is a model of how under-performing or closed pubs at the bottom of tenanted estates can find a future. There are lots of skilled multi-site operators on the scene who still specialise in wet-led pubs. The Weston model is a win-win for both small managed companies and large tenanted operators. There’s certainty in obtaining the freehold and an incentive to invest for Weston while Thwaites has several years of beer flowing through otherwise stricken sites and the bonus of a sale of freeholds at a slight increment to book value in July 2013.

People Moves:

Suzy Jackson joins Hospitality Guild as executive director: Former Punch Taverns director of central operations and recruitment Suzy Jackson has joined the newly formed Hospitality Guild as its executive director. The Hospitality Guild is a new umbrella body that will take a lead on skills development within the hospitality industry. Jackson, who oversaw a revamp of central operations and recruitment at Punch before leaving last year, has taken charge of strategy and engagement at the new body. The Hospitality Guild will represent larger employers, SMEs and 2.2 million employees within the hospitality sector. The aim is turn the Hospitality Guild into a united voice for increased professionalism in the sector. It brings together a dozen existing professional bodies and associations, including the BII, the National Skills Academy for Hospitality, People 1st and Springboard UK. The Hospitality Guild has won government funding after a GIF bid by sector skill council People 1st. Jackson told Morning Briefing: “I’m delighted to be involved in the launch of this important initiative for the sector – there is widespread recognition within the industry that we must collectively up our game in terms of improving skill levels and training to attract and retain high quality staff.” Last week, it was revealed that Simon Vincent, European president of Hilton Worldwide, will be chairman of the Hospitality Guild. 

Weekend industry news catch-up:

Cameron to press ahead with minimum pricing: David Cameron is to press ahead with the introduction of minimum pricing despite opposition from six Cabinet colleagues. The scheme, to fix a minimum price of 40p per unit, is set to be introduced no later than April 2015 – a month before the election.

Earl Grey tea is nature’s satin: A fruit extract that is contained within Earl Grey tea could help drinkers lose weight, lower cholesterol and protect against diabetes, according to a study by a university in Italy. An ingredients the bergamot orange is being described as nature’s satin. The extract contains chemicals called citrus polyphenols that appear to block production of blood fats, boost metabolism and prevent cholesterol absorption in the gut. 

UK Asparagus is a month early: Thanks to recent warm weather, UK-grown asparagus is available a month ahead of the usual time. Selfridges and Marks & Spencer have taken delivery of their first consignment, courtesy of Wye Valley farmer John Chin, who uses polytunnels to maximise warmth and light.

Baby boomers feeling worst of recession: Old-age specialists Saga report that a third of people over 50 are suffering lower living standards than a year ago. Nearly half - 45 per cent of 11,642 people surveyed - have cut back their spending. They also report problems with unemployment and inflation. 

Teenagers who drink and smoke are unhappy: A study of 5,000 teenagers by Essex University has founded teenagers who never drank alcohol were between four and six times more likely to have higher levels of happiness than those who did. Those who shunned cigarettes were about five times more likely to register high happiness scores.

Best bosses are those “kept in line”: Bosses can turn into megalomaniacs if they don’t have staff around them who are prepared to challenge their decisions, according to research by the University of Southern California. Power can go to the head of senior managers if they are surrounded by yes-men, the research claimed. Guinea pigs in the research took fake aptitude tests. Half were told they were powerful figures and went on to take riskier decisions in further tests. Prof Fast concluded: “Power is an elixir, a self-esteem enhancing drug that surges through the brain telling you how great your ideas are. This leaves the powerful vulnerable to making overconfident decisions.”

Summer of misery for drivers: The AA has warned that a combination of soaring oil prices and a planned rise in fuel duty in August will hit drivers. The average price of unleaded petrol and diesel set new highs on Friday, reaching 133.4p and 144.67 respectively. Fuel duty increases in August of around 3p will mean drivers could be paying an extra £4 to fill up by the end of the summer. AA spokesman Paul Watters said: “This is unthinkable and a nightmare scenario for hard-pressed families and business.”

VAT campaign puts jobs at heart of campaign: VAT Club JB, the organisation set up by Jacques Borel to lobby for a reduction in the level of VAT, has put jobs at the heart of its campaign. It has redesigned its logo to emphasise the fact that a reduction in VAT will create new jobs across the hospitality industry. The organisation estimates that between 140,000 and 320,000 extra jobs can be created as a result of a reduction in VAT by the government from 20 per cent to five per cent.

Starbucks strengthens coffee content: Starbucks is to increase the caffeine level in its British coffee to meet UK tastes. Customers have complained its coffee is too milky and weak. Research show that caffeine levels in standard Costa coffee is three times higher.

Marston’s boss makes plea on tax: The government is “crippling” pubs with its tax and regulatory policies, Ralph Findlay, boss of Marston’s has argued in an opinion piece in The Times. The government took 43 per cent of company revenues - £291m out of our total sales of £682.2m - last year. He added: “To put this in context, last year government took almost ten times as much from the company as the investors who own it: they received dividends totaling just £33m.”

Company news:

Itsu plans eight new openings this year: Itsu, the sushi chain founded by Pret A Manger boss Julian Metcalfe that has 32 sites, has reported a circa 25% jump in turnover from £30.6m to £37.2m for the year ended 5 January 2012. The company opened five new sites in 2011 and plans eight this year. Operating profit swung from a loss of £634,208 in 2010 to a profit of £959,822 for 2011. The company stated: “Whilst the market is not forecast to grow significantly in 2012, the company is well-placed to continue increasing its revenues by virtue of its growing brand strength and consumer appetite for fast healthy food.” 2011 saw the company improve its hot food offer and sandwich/salad categories. “These improvements are creating a more balanced menu,” it said. Itsu has total bank loans of only £4.7m and is 99% owned by Metcalfe and fellow director Clive Schlee and Gavin Loughran.

Tragus in talks with banks: Café Rouge owner Tragus is in talks with its lenders about an anticipated covenant breach in May, according to The Sunday Telegraph. The company, owned by private equity firm Blackstone and led by Graham Turner, is likely to fail a covenant test in May and wants more headroom on its £230m of debts.

Living Ventures seeks private equity investor: North West managed operator Living Ventures has appointed Deloittes to find a private equity investor as it looks at routes to end its joint venture with The Restaurant Group that involves 14 Blackhouse and Gusto restaurants, according to The Times. Living Ventures is planning to invest £8m opening eight venues in 2012. Managing director Tim Bacon says: “Diners’ appetites for good food in a relaxed environment is still growing.”

Brakspear’s tax free day doubles volumes: Brakspear’s tax-free day in Henley saw drinkers pouring into the ten pubs that took part. Pubs sold a pint of Brakspear bitter with £1.30 off the normal selling price - with similar discounts on pints of Kronenbourg and Foster’s. Brakspear chief executive Tom Davies said: “Early feedback from participating pubs indicates that they sold around double the amount of beer they would have sold at full price. This is a clear indication of how the current punitive levels of beer taxation are affecting people’s ability to afford a pint in the pub.”

Mitchells & Butlers’ Erik Castenskiold leaves: The long-serving director of corporate affairs at Mitchells & Butlers, Erik Castenskiold, departed on Friday. Castenskiold has overseen external communications at the company during its turbulent past three years. He told Morning Briefing: “I am looking to go back into a finance director role and have been encouraged by the possible opportunities at the moment.” He can be contacted on

Hall & Woodhouse in industry first: Dorset brewer and retailer Hall & Woodhouse will pull off a coup by becoming the first ever company to secure its own garden - the Badger Beer Garden - at the prestigious Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in July. The garden will celebrate brewing and beer.

Micro-pubs on the rise: Micro-pubs, small public houses focused on cask ale, are on the rise, the Sunday Times reports. The venues, often based in former shops, open short hours. A total of four – the pub equivalent of pop-up restaurants - have appeared in Kent. Landlord of one, a former butcher’s shop now called the Bucher’s Arms, Martyn Hillier says he has been contacted by 95 would-be landlords hoping to open a micro-pub.

Liberation Group wins top Jersey honour: Liberation Group, the Jersey brewer and pub operator led by Mark Crowther, has won Large Business of the Year and Overall Business of the Year in the tenth annual Jersey Business Awards held on Friday night. Crowther told Morning Briefing: “The judges stated that the winner demonstrated that a traditional business which is out of favour in many parts of the mainland can be transformed with the right leadership, focus and investment in people, customers and product.”

Brumby launches EIS scheme: Mark Brumby, who produces the Langton Capital briefing each morning, is to launch a £10m Enterprise Investment Scheme today, according to The Times. The scheme is part of his involvement in Imbiba Bars and Restaurants, the backer of City bar chain Drake & Morgan. Brumby will invest £200,000 alongside his co-partners John Connell and Simon Wheeler in developing bars and restaurants in London.

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