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Fri 7th Jun 2013 - British Country Inns, Fuller’s and Little Chef

Story of the day:

Fuller’s to open London Pride airside pub at Heathrow Terminal Two in 2014; enters cider market: London brewer and retailer Fuller’s will open London Pride, the only airside pub at Heathrow’s new Terminal Two in 2014. The company said: “This development is a natural evolution for the company to capitalise upon our existing expertise trading in transport hubs such as London’s Waterloo, King’s Cross and Paddington stations. Located just eight miles from the brewery, “London’s Pride” will showcase the story of Fuller’s heritage in a modern setting within one of the world’s busiest airports. At this exciting addition to our estate, passengers from home and abroad will be able to sample our array of beers and freshly prepared food or choose a plane picnic from our “Grab & Fly” range.” The company has also entered the premium cider market with the acquisition of Cornish Orchard for £3.8m. Fuller’s reported managed pubs total sales up 9% and like-for-likes up 2.1% in the 52 weeks ended 30 March. A new beer company strategy has been launched with a “Made of London” advertising campaign now live, telling the true stories of London Pride’s unique history, provenance and relationship with London. A new 500ml bottle has been launched, with all labels redesigned and updated and Frontier launch, its new wave craft lager, brewed over 42 days. Michael Turner, chairman of Fuller’s, said: “I am pleased to announce a strong performance by the group, driven by our pub acquisitions and developments. Our adjusted earnings per share rose by an impressive 8% to 43.07p (2012: 39.82p) and the recommended total dividend also increased 8%, delivering real value to our shareholders. We are excited to be implementing our new beer company strategy, which features a number of initiatives. We have also entered into the premium cider market through the acquisition of Cornish Orchards and their flagship brand, Cornish Gold, a truly delicious, quality craft cider made from freshly pressed apples.” Sales were up 7% to £271.5m and profit before tax of £35.2m (2012: £28.8m). For the nine weeks to 1 June, managed pubs and hotels like-for-like sales are up 7%.

Industry news:

In today’s separate Propel Friday Opinion e-mail: Paul Charity looks at the power of US foodservice franchise, Kevin Higar examines US menu trends in an era where consumers are searching for increased value, Philippa Keogh looks at the North/South property divide and Ann Elliott examines search engine optimisation.

Award-winning Enterprise lessees endorse the tie: Award-winning Enterprise lessees Steve Haslam and Jo Drain, who operate six-strong TLC Inns, set the seal on a 23-year personal and business partnership by getting wed yesterday at their Enterprise Inns pub, The White Horse at Ramsden Heath, Essex. The couple have three children, Paige, Holly and Oliver. 

Community buy-outs to get £50m backing: Communities wanting to buy their local pub, post office or sports centre will be able to tap into a £50m fund to help them do so, Prime Minister David Cameron has said. The money will enable residents to carry out feasibility studies on asset buyouts without incurring big debts. Speaking at a conference in London, the Prime Minister said community ownership could become a reality across the UK.

Strawberries ‘later but riper’: The strawberry season is about two weeks later that usual this year but growers report that strawberries are likely to be around 40% sweeter than normal and 15% larger thanks to the combination of wet weather and the slow build-up of summer heat.

Lettuce Entertain You opens first airport restaurant – three more to follow: Highly regarded Chicago restaurant operator Lettuce Entertain You has opened its first ever airport restaurant at the city’s O’Hare International Terminal Five – and will follow the opening with three more restaurants. Lettuce Entertain You has opened a Big Bowl pan-Asian food site at Terminal Five – the concept is credited with inspiring Alan Yau’s Wagamama brand. Three other Lettuce Entertain You ventures will open in the coming weeks – Wow Bao, offering steamed sweet and savory Asian buns, Mediterranean offer Urban Olive and Hub 51, offering everything from sushi to sandwiches. Vosges Haut-Chocolat, whose first site was in Chicago’s Logan Square, has also opened – it offers luxury chocolate creations using ingredients from around the world, from Oaxaca chocolate bars with guajillo and pasilla chilis to Tanzanian bittersweet chocolate. Propel Info and the ALMR will be visiting Chicago in May 2014 to attend the National Restaurant Association Show and tour Chicago concepts, including foodservice phenomenon Eataly, which is opening this September. To express a preliminary interest in attending, e-mail

Company news:

James Caan plans bid for Little Chef: Former member of the Dragon’s Den panel James Caan has emerged as a bidder for the 80-strong Little Chef business. His private equity firm, Hamilton Bradshaw, is conducting due diligence on the business, which was placed on the market by its owner Rcapital in April. Sources close to Caan told The Daily Telegraph that he was keen to retain the brand but that he was also looking to work with another bidder because he did not plan to retain all the sites. The Daily Telegraph speculated that the business might be worth between £10m to £15m – it was bought out of administration by Rcapital for £9m. Previously, it was reported that KFC, Starbucks and Costa Coffee were interested in buying the business with a view to rebranding sites. 

Downing invests to expand Red Med with Dogma purchase: Fund manager Downing, which has investments in Antic, Pub People Company and Castle Leisure, has acquired the freehold of Dogma in Lincoln, a site previously owned by Ever So Sensible Bars, to expand the Red Med business that runs Home nightclub in the city. Downing investment manger Steve Kenee reports that Downing paid “bricks and mortar” value for Dogma and will invest a further £300,000 to £400,000 to turn it into a multi-use coffee shop that becomes a cocktail bar in the evenings. Red Med is led by John O’Donaghue with Luminar chief executive Peter Marks one if its non-executive directors. Kenee told Propel: “We are still looking for new investments in the sector – in fact we are sending heads of terms out today to two different operators looking to create a relationship with us. We still think property values are keen at the moment from a buyer’s perspective – the return on capital is very good and the multiples we’re paying are around the same as they were two years ago.” Downing’s largest single sector investment is Antic – it paid £1.1m to buy 12 sites out of administration in a new vehicle called Gregarious running the pubs under the umbrella brand. There are a further 13 sites run in various special purpose vehicles under the Antic brand – with five more in the pipeline. Kenee said: “The administration didn’t affect the sites at all – they continue to perform well. We are making minor capital improvement to them and will add more sites to the pot going forward.”

British Country Inns chairman – very soft demand for our pubs: British County Inns (BCI), the Enterprise Investment Scheme company that bought around 28 freehold pubs at the top of the market in 2007 and 2008, has told shareholders that there is very soft demand for its pubs. Under the usual lifespan of an EIS, the company would ordinarily be looking to sell at the moment but will carry to avoid crystallising losses for shareholders. Chairman Martin Sherwood told shareholders: “We have recently tested the market by offering a small number of pubs for sale on a confidential basis and were discouraged by the general lack of interest and what can only be described as very soft demand. Following (a) valuation we believe the value of your company is circa 43p per share. We would, however, we unlikely to achieve this value if we were to proceed with an outright sale of all your properties at firesale prices. We believe the best strategy is to continue working hard at developing the business in the hope of attracting offers from purchasers in the not too distant future.” Sherwood told shareholders that the market for their shares is far from strong. “To date, we have only had one buyer and lots of potential sellers and the buyer was looking to acquire shares at around half asset value, which many potential sellers told me was too low.” BCI pubs are operated by Peter Mathews and Tim Udell. 

Joule’s Brewery re-opens pub – after almost two years of planning negotiations: Shropshire-based Joule’s Brewery is set to re-open The Mere Inn, Alsager – a pub it originally acquired from Punch in the autumn of 2011. It has been the company’s longest ever scheme due to the complexity of obtaining planning permission for an extension. Joule’s Brewery, based in Market Drayton, has restored The Mere Inn to its Victorian roots, with the help of a former licensee and his family who remembered what it used to look like. The brewery has reinstated the snugs and cosy rooms to reflect a small and quaint mid-Victorian parlor pub. Joule’s spokeswoman Trudie Meredith said: “It has been one of our biggest schemes as we had to strip the building back to its core fabric, and we then set about recreating the original snugs and parlour rooms that had been removed over the years. With these reinstated, we also wanted to add some additional space for casual dining as our pubs all do wholesome locally sourced quality home cooking and we wanted a state-of-the-art kitchen and some dedicated dining space.”

Bulldog Hotel Group turnover passes £6m; agrees heads of terms on new acquisition: Bulldog Hotel Group, the operator of market town coaching inns led by Kevin Charity that won a MA250 award for Best Accommodation provider, is understood to have agreed heads of terms on a seventh coaching inn site. The company is set to take over the site within a few weeks. The new sites comes after the company saw turnover pass the £6m mark in its most recent financial year ending last month. The company won an AA Rosette for its Talbot Hotel, Eatery and Coffee House in Oundle, Northamptonshire just three months after being re-opened in May 2012. The Rosette came in the wake of The Talbot being re-opened as a “new generation” coaching inn with a £1.3m investment. The Talbot was acquired by Bulldog Hotel Group from Greene King in 2009. Two years were spent getting the necessary planning consents to completely re-model the Grade One-listed venue. It re-opened, after an eight-month refurbishment, as a radical re-invention of the coaching inn with an offer that combines quality bedrooms and a mix of elements of pub, restaurant and coffee shop – the venue has a Patisserie Valerie-style serving counter that offers made-on-the-premises cakes, muffins, Danishes and other pastries. Charity said: “The Talbot is now a coaching inn, eating house and coffee shop all in one.” Bulldog acquired the whole of the issued share capital of Focus Hotels last year – the company owned The Rodney Hotel in Horncastle, Lincolnshire.

Mark Butler adds 11 boutique bedrooms from ashes at Rugby coaching inn: Industry veteran Mark Butler, who runs Quicksilver Management, has added 11 boutique bedrooms to The Olde Coach House, in Ashby St Legers, Rugby, Warwickshire in a £500,000 joint venture with Charles Wells. The bedrooms opens in the week starting 10 June and the new venue will officially launch on 20 June. The company also operates The World’s End at Ecton, Northamptonshire. Butler told Propel: “We suffered a fire in the staff house last summer and I saw an opportunity to convert the house to letting bedrooms to add to our existing five bedrooms. We have created 11 fantastic bedrooms, which will change the dynamic of the business particularly with the corporate market mid week. Charles Wells has been fantastic to work with and very supportive, in what initially was a major problem for The Olde Coach House. The company believed in me and the opportunity and I am looking forward to making the venue one of the most unique and successful country inns in the country. It has been a very successful trading country pub over the years with an average occupancy of 80% and I see this rate continuing with the extra deluxe rooms, which will also have a slightly higher rack rate.”

Brakes marketing director set to join Enterprise Inns: Enterprise Inns is set to strengthen it senior team with the appointment of James Armitage as its marketing director. Armitage has worked at food supplier Brakes for 18 years, working as its marketing director for the past six years. 

North Norfolk landmark sold for circa £1.4m: An 18th century Georgian coaching inn in picturesque North Norfolk, has been sold for £1.4m by property agent Christie + Co on behalf of the Holkham Estate. The Globe Inn, in the coastal town of Wells-next-the-Sea, is an inn with seven bedrooms, but with planning permission to convert substantial outbuildings into ten further bedrooms. The inn, awarded 4-Stars and a Silver Award from Enjoy England, has been acquired by Stephen and Antonia Bournes. John Grace, associate director of Christie + Co in Ipswich, said: “Not only is The Globe Inn a renowned ‘locals’ bar and restaurant, it is also a destination inn for tourists to the beautiful North Norfolk coast. It is a highly profitable business, having benefited from a substantial refurbishment by the Holkham Estate over recent years.”

Marston’s wins provisional licence in Port Glasgow: Midlands-based brewer and retailer Marston’s won a provisional licence for a new-build 180-cover carvery pub restaurant yesterday from the Inverclyde Licensing Board. Work is expected to start later this year with the premises opening in about April 2014. The port Glasgow site is the sixth licence the company has obtained for its expansion into Scotland with two sites now open - Pine Martin Dunbar and Steam Wheeler Braehead. A third site ‘The Old Colliery’ at Shawfair Edinburgh is to open imminently.

Three graduate from Luminar’s Social Media Academy: Nightclub operator Luminar is celebrating the first three candidates to graduate from its Social Media Academy. Charlotte Felton, deputy manager of Liquid & Envy in Oldham, Lynsey McCathie, a club administrator from the Cav in Edinburgh and Ben Adams, a DJ from Liquid & Envy in Basildon have all graduated. Developed in conjunction with Factory Social, the official social media partner of Team GB for the London 2012 games, the bespoke on-line Academy covers all elements of the social media mix from Facebook and Twitter to YouTube and Pinterest. To further drive engagement, the e-learning resource also includes written, video and audio content.

Star Pubs & Bars invests £800,000 in Bristol pubs: Two Bristol pubs, The Eastfield Inn in Henleaze and Somerset House in Clifton, are reopening this month following an investment of over £430,000 by Star Pubs & Bars. A further seven Star Pubs & Bars sites in the Bristol area are set to benefit from £400,000 investment by the company in 2013. Situated in prime areas of Bristol, The Eastfield Inn and Somerset House are being completely refurbished inside and out, transforming previously wet led pubs into high quality venues in keeping with their neighbourhoods. The Eastfield Inn will be a traditional pub catering for a broad range of the community from senior citizens to couples and families. Somerset House will bring the feel of a stylish London bar to Bristol appealing to young professionals.

Opening of London’s highest hotel delayed: The opening of London’s highest hotel in the Shard tower has been put back as fit-out work over runs. Sisk group is currently on site fitting-out the Shangri-La luxury hotel between floors 34 and 52 of the tower. Fit-out work started in January 2012. The hotel was originally due to open later this month with the first bookings being taken from April. But Shangri-La has now told potential visitors on Twitter that it is “hoping to take bookings by early June” and September is now the earliest opening date. The firm added: “We look forward to be able to communicate our confirmed opening date in due course.”

Starcom lands £40m Burger King media brief: Burger King has appointed Starcom to handle its £40m European media planning and buying business. Starcom, which handles the company’s US account, will oversee media activity across most European markets, including the UK, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. The appointment is a blow to the incumbent, Initiative, which went head-to-head against Starcom in a final pitch.

M&J Taverns to open fourth pub in Northampton: M&J Taverns is to open its fourth pub in Northampton late this month - The Grade II listed Old Black Lion, in Marefair, which closed last year due to structural problems with an outside wall, which have now been rectified. The pub will open on Thursday June 20, with a new menu, real ales and wines of the world. M&J Taverns already operates The Artizan Arms, The Bat and Wickets and The Edge of Town in Northampton.

Itsu hires Creative as its first advertising agency: Itsu, the restaurant chain founded by Julian Metcalfe, has hired Creature London as its first advertising agency. Creature will be responsible for communicating the message that Itsu is no longer just a sushi restaurant but an Asian-inspired “healthy fast-food” shop. The media budget has yet to be decided. Metcalfe said: “The team at Creature were just enchanting – compelling, fun, honest, creative and driven.”

Nicholson’s wins exclusive launch deal on Madness beer: Mitchells & Butlers’ Nicholson’s Pubs will help launch the new collaboration brew between Growler Brewery (formerly known as Nethergate) and British pop band Madness. Nicholson’s will be the first to exclusively distribute the beer named “Gladness” nationwide across its 80-pub estate for the initial 12-week launch from this month. Ben Lockwood, assistant brand manager for Nicholson’s Pubs, said: “We were delighted to support a great British band rooting for quality ale in British pubs. As well as being the exclusive distributor for the first 12 weeks, we will also be supporting the beer along with other interesting brews during our forthcoming Summer Ales festival between the 7 July until the 4 August this year.” Deals with JD Wetherspoon and Punch Taverns have also been signed for after the original exclusivity period.

TCG launches beer food menu: Managed pub and bar group TCG is launching a new ‘beer food’ menu, designed to give its drinking customers a range of interesting snacks to enjoy alongside their favourite beer. Beer food is aimed at groups of customers on occasions such as unwinding after work, taking part in a pub quiz or watching the match on TV. The menu is designed to bridge the gap between bagged snacks and full meals. TCG chief operating officer Nigel Wright said: “We offer a range of popular menus targeted to the style of venue, such as our ‘King’s Feast’ and ‘Good Honest Food’ concepts, and we saw an opportunity to complement the core food offer in many of our pubs and bars with dishes that work well alongside a pint or a glass of wine. Many customers want more than just a bagged snack when they’re out for a drink, but equally they don’t want to sit down for a meal. The ’Beer Food’ menu offers dishes that are fun to eat as finger foods – but we’ll provide forks if we’re asked!” Beer food dishes are all presented on wooden boards, either individually, such as the garlic, olive & Parmesan flatbread, or stuffed jalapenos, or in combinations such as the meat platter, which includes a bowl each of sticky sausages, pulled pork and black pudding with belly pork bites.

Brook Leisure starts work on flagship Sheffield NUM plan: Brook Leisure, the nightclub operator, has begun work on creating two restaurants at the former National Union of Mineworkers’ headquarters in Sheffield city centre. Terms have been agreed with two unnamed restaurant operators with a view to them taking ground floor premises with entrances off Holly Street, facing the side of the City Hall. The company is still considering a plan to open a casino on the site. The building, near Barkers Pool, has stood empty for more than 20 years. Brook Leisure secured planning permission two years ago for a 24-hour casino, two restaurants and a rooftop bar. Now work is starting with the aim of opening the restaurants by August or September so that they can be trading in the run-up to next Christmas. No names are being revealed until the deals have been wrapped up, but Matthew Stephens, development director of Quest Property, part of Brook Leisure, said: “They are high quality operators who are not in the city at present. Our focus is to get the restaurants.”

McDonald’s opens seventh site in Milton Keynes – and biggest yet: McDonald’s has opened its seventh restaurant in Milton Keynes – and biggest yet. The two-storey restaurant in Brickhill is one of the first of its kind in the UK, and includes 130 indoor seats, 45 external patio seats, and 28 car parking spaces.

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