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Tue 18th Jun 2013 - JW Lees, Las Iguanas and Novus

Story of the day:

Steve Richards to quit as Novus Leisure boss: Novus Leisure is looking for a new chief executive after Steve Richards signaled his desire to step down this summer. A process to replace Richards has already begun after Richards told the board some time ago that he planned to leave. Richards’ departure is a surprise because he was widely linked to the top job at Mitchells & Butlers a year ago. It was rumoured that he turned it down to stay in post after the sale of Novus to Hutton Collins and LGV Capital. Novus stressed that succession planning has been in place with a number of key appointments in recent months. Tim Cullum, formerly of TGI Friday’s, joined as chief operating officer and Gregor Grant joined as finance director. Richards said: “Having led the business since it was founded some eight years ago and successfully steered the business through the recent £100m buyout, it is the right time for me to seek a new challenge and hand the reins over. The team at Novus has truly transformed the business over the last few years and has succeeded in dominating the central London premium bar market by constant product innovation and building a market leading digital platform in Leaving a business that is part of your DNA is never easy. But it is the right decision for me and for the business and I look forward to hearing of its continuing success. This year has been one of building for the future both in terms of developing the customer proposition, strengthening the digital sales channel and recruiting an experienced team with the capabilities to compliment and add to Novus’s highly successful management team. I wish both the business and its great people every success over its next stage of growth.” Chairman John Kelly said: “We would like to extend our gratitude to Steve for his immense contribution to building Novus into the market-leading business which it represents today. He has overseen its transformation to central London’s premier bar and restaurant business and pioneered the pre-booked sales model, which is the group’s USP. We will undoubtedly miss Steve’s energy and drive. However, a succession plan has been in place for some time.” In the past year, Novus has repositioned 12 of its existing sites via a capital investment programme, including the launch of its Lewis & Clarke roll-out model at the Gable in the City. In addition, the company sold a number of high value, non-core single sites. A total of £2m has been invested in its digital and CRM platform. Novus said it is looking at acquisitions and has agreed terms on a new site in Leicester Square. 

Industry news:

Booker asks for lump sum payments from Makro supplier: The Grocer has reported that suppliers to wholesaler Makro has been asked for lump sum payments by new owner Booker as a “thank you” for rescuing the firm. One supplier told the magazine: “We have been asked for a lump sum. The justification given is that we would have lost money with Makro as they would have gone bust. The result will be a period of disruption, which will not help the Booker business.” 

Andy Wood, Jill Stein, Clare Smythe, Jillian MacLean and Geoffrey Ascott named in Queen’s Birthday Honours list: Adnams chief executive Andy Wood has been awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list along with Jill Stein, founder and director of the Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, Cornwall. They were joined by Clare Smyth, chef patron of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Jillian MacLean, founder of Drake & Morgan and Geoffrey Acott, retired army captain and national treasurer of the Craft Guild of Chefs who were all made MBEs.

West Dunbartonshire Council forces Tesco to stop selling alcohol above 5.5% abv: West Dunbartonshire Council, described, by alcohol commentator Phil Mellows “as the most aggressively anti-drink local authority in the UK” has forced a Tesco store to stop selling alcohol above 5.5% ABV alcohol in return for granting an extension to its alcohol area. In his blog for CPL Training, Mellows said: “This is becoming quite a common sort of voluntary measure, though West Dunbartonshire’s threshold is the lowest I’ve seen and will hit a lot of premium products that are not the real target – the high ‘bang-per-buck’ products favoured by dependent street drinkers.” Tesco also agreed not to sell in packs of fewer than four bottles or cans any of these products where the individual pack is less than 440ml, whatever the strength (you might have to read that twice). The council is insisting that Tesco sells this alcohol in multiple quantities, flying in the face of the existing ban on discounted multibuys. It’s as if they’re encouraging us to drink more. I’m not entirely sure which products it has in mind here, but 330ml bottles of 5% ABV beer would qualify. Read more at:

Fast casual chain Smith & Western joins the ALMR: Six-strong fast casual restaurant chain Smith and Western has become the latest multiple operator to join the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers. The business, which sells classic American menu items in its heavily themed restaurants, has sites in Tadworth, Surrey, Chichester, West Sussex, Horsham, West Sussex, Lingfield, Surrey and Tunbridge Wells, Kent. Its most recent opening was a former Mitchells & Butlers site in Tilgate Part, Crawley. 

Company news:

Las Iguanas scores top marks on TripAdvisor and Peach BrandTrack: Latin American restaurant brand Las Iguanas has won TripAdvisor Certificates of Excellence for 17 of its 29 sites. The accolade is given to the top-performing ten per cent of businesses listed on TripAdvisor maintaining a score of four or above for a year. In addition the Peach BrandTrack, which surveys 5,000 customers twice a year on their views of 57 brands, has named Las Iguanas top in six categories: coolest brand, most exciting brand, most fun brand, best ambience, highest net promoter score and most likely to be recommended. Managing director Eren Ali said: “It’s been a great year so far and this just backs up what a fantastic offer we have. Over the last four years we have set out to reinvigorate the brand and the results of this work are really proving a big hit with our guests.” Las Iguanas have 29 branches and open in Cheshire Oaks in July, Wembley City in October and have a further six branches in the pipeline for this financial year. 

Mezze to open £1.6m “jewel in the crown” at Enterprise Inns site: South west restaurant company Mezze has described its planned £1.6m re-opening of Enterprise Inns’ White Lion in Portishead, its sixth site, as the “jewel in its crown”. Mezze at The White Lion in the High Street will see a site re-open that has been closed for two years. The historic inn, which dates back to 1810, was a former old tide mill and the waters of the Bristol Channel used to reach up as far as the mill providing a mooring point for boats. A new heated roof top terrace and sunken Mediterranean gardens are being created, along with an ice cream parlour, a cocktail bar, Mezze restaurant and a la carte restaurant. Mezze owner Alex Tryfonos said: “This is certainly our biggest challenge to date. With the venue being an old tidal mill the building has seen better days but with careful restoration we have kept some key features. Mezze at The White Lion will be the jewel in our crown.” Mezze also operates The Green Dragon in Downend, The Royal George in Thornbury, The Warwick Arms in Clutton, The Ship & Castle in Congresbury and The Anchor, Ham Green.

Jamie Rollo - hotels operators engaged in comfy bed wars: Morgan Stanley leisure analyst Jamie Rollo reports that a tour of four London hotel brands found beds a major area of competition. He said: “Each operator went to great lengths to explain why their bed was the best, and all except Premier Inn had invested in new luxury mattresses, toppers and pillows. Amongst our two dozen attendees, there was no widespread consensus about the preferred hotel - most people thought the IBIS lobby and communal areas were best, the Travelodge bed the most comfortable, the Holiday Inn Express the most friendly and helpful, and the Premier Inn the best overall package. In addition to the bed, there appears to be some signs of amenity and service creep. All operators were also investing in larger flat screen TVs (Premier Inn has gone for a surprisingly large 40” screen versus 28” at Travelodge), and all hotels offered free Wi-Fi in the lobby areas with optional upgrades to high speed broadband in the rooms. All hotels effectively offer in-room dining now, although customers must collect their food from the restaurant on the ground floor. Capex spend ranged widely. Travelodge’s new look is costing just £600 per room (for its newer hotels), which includes a new pocket sprung bed (£1,000 retail). Holiday Inn Express spends £3,000 to £4,000 every five to seven years. Premier Inn spends £300 to £500 every three years, £2,500 to £3,000 every six years, and £9,000 to £10,000 every 12 years. Premier Inn is so confident about its superior offer that not only does it offer a great night’s sleep guarantee, but every room has a card with the general manager and operations director mobile phone number on in case of problems.”

Marston’s, PizzaExpress and Ask Italian sites at Allsops auction: The freehold of a site in Weymouth, Dolce Vita, let to Marston’s will be auctioned by Allsops on Tuesday 9 July with a guide price of £625,000 to £650,000. The current rent is £54,000 per annum and the lease expires in 2025 – a rent review is due in February 2015. The freehold of the flagship PizzaExpress site in The Square, Jubilee Street is also being auctioned on behalf of the receivers of the property – there is no guide price given but PizzaExpress pays a rent of £104,335 per annum on a lease expiring in 2032. The freehold of an Ask Italian site in Bromley Road, Beckenham, is to be auctioned with a guide price of £1.3 to £1.45m – Ask pays a rent of £121,150 per annum on a lease that expires in 2024.

JW Lees opens second Duttons in Manchester: North west brewer and retailer JW Lees has created around 50 jobs opening a second site for its Duttons brand – it is located in a 7,000 square foot unit on Albert Square opposite Manchester Town Hall. Albert Square is undergoing a revival – The Victorian Chop House Company recently opened the Albert Square Chop House in the historic Memorial Hall Building. William Lees-Jones told Propel earlier this year: “Duttons has performed really strongly for us in Chester and we have been looking for other locations for some time. Manchester is obviously a place we know well. The site (formerly Prezzo and before that Chez Gerard) has previously been a bit of a doomed location, but I am confident we can make a really strong success of it.” He described the Duttons concept as “a chameleon bar”, serving breakfasts, good quality tea and coffee all day, lunch and food and drink in the evening. “It’s not a nightclub or a Michelin Star restaurant, but a friendly, informal location for good quality food and drink.” In January, JW Lees agreed a £10m funding deal with Royal Bank of Scotland to expand its estate. Lees-Jones added: “Duttons is a successful bar restaurant in Chester and after ten years of success we thought it was time for site number two.”

TCG reports cask ale sales up 7% in the estate in recent six months: Managed operator TCG has reported that cask ale sales grew by 7% in the six months between September last year and April this year. The company reported that one pub team, The Lamb Inn in Norwich, saw a 11% increase in wet sales after holding its first ever ale festival over 11 days. The Lamb staged the festival from 23 May – 2 June, as part of the annual Norwich City of Ale campaign promoting the city’s many great pubs and breweries. During its Ale Festival, The Lamb Inn offered 16 ales, sourced mainly from local brewers including Adnams, Bees and Wolf. A landmark on the Haymarket in Norwich for more than 300 years, The Lamb was restored to its former glory by a £250,000 refurbishment 18 months ago. General manager Clive Hitchens said: “When we reopened the pub we made cask ale a focus so it’s great to have achieved this level of success with our first ever ale festival.”

Greene King starts work on second Hungry Horse in Weston-super-Mare: Suffolk-based Greene King has started work on the second Hungry Horse in Weston-super-Mare. The second site, a £2m investment that has yet to be named, is being built as part of the £30m Weston Gateway Business Park in Weston-super-Mare, located just off the A370. The 6,500 square foot pub is due to be completed by the end of the year. 

Intertain plans two sales and leasebacks to raise £5m: The freeholds of two Walkabout sites operated by Intertain have been placed on the market on a sale and leaseback basis. Colliers International is selling a site in Blackpool for £3.3m (Intertain pays a rent of £300,000 per annum) and one in Derby for £1.7m (Intertain pays a rent of £160,000 per annum). The Derby site is set for a £350,000 refurbishment during summer 2013.

No Saints defeat police move to revoke licence in Sutton: No Saints, the nightclub company headed by Stephen Thomas, has defeated a police bid to revoke the licence of its Wonderland nightclub in Sutton’s Cheam Road. The company has been told by Sutton Council’s licensing sub committee that it can keep the site open and will have no extra sanctions placed on it as a result of its licence review. Police had claimed the club was a haven for sexual predators at closing time, that staff sold drinks irresponsibly and allowed people to get dangerously drunk.

Browns signs exclusive Cornish lager deal with St Austell: Browns, the brasserie brand owned by Mitchells & Butlers, has signed an exclusive deal to stock St Austell Brewery’s popular Cornish lager, Korev after a successful four month trial. The 4.8% beer will be the only English lager sold on draught in Brown’s 27 locations, which stretch from Bristol to Edinburgh and include seven London eateries. Martin Breading, national sales director at St Austell Brewery, said: “We are delighted to see Korev Cornish Lager being served across the Browns estate. The initial trials proved very successful, with excellent rates of sale and positive feedback from Browns customers. Korev is craft brewed to an authentic lager brewing method over a 25 day period using only natural ingredients, including Cornish grown lager malt.” Simon King, retail director at Browns Bar & Brasseries, said: “We’re delighted to be launching Korev Cornish Lager into our restaurants. Its fresh, clean flavour proved a great success amongst our customers, and its Cornish provenance and heritage feel fits perfectly with our offering of distinctive food and drink.”

Carlisle multi-site operator buys bank and eyes leisure use: Carlisle multi-site operator Ron Wood has emerged as the buyer of the former Santander bank branch in Devonshire Street in the city, which sold at auction last month. Wood already runs Le Gall cafe bar on the opposite side of Devonshire Street and the city’s Border Rambler and Arroyo pubs. His previous ventures include the former Freedom nightclub in Lancaster Street. He will be working closely with city council planning officers to secure an acceptable use for his latest acquisition. This might involve a bar on the ground floor with the upper floors converted to residential use. He said: “Everything is subject to planning permission. There are two distinct areas for night life in Carlisle – Botchergate and the Devonshire Street/Lowther Street area, which seems to be catering for a more affluent, 30-plus age group. As we have a Le Gall across the road, we will be looking to do something that complements that.”

Villagers in Great Milton celebrate forming co-op to buy pub from Greene King: Villagers in Great Milton, Oxfordshire, are celebrating the takeover of the last remaining village pub as a co-operative, the 18th in the UK. Around 300 residents, nearly half the village population, joined local celebrity chef Raymond Blanc to mark the occasion. The Bull in Great Milton was put up for sale by Greene King at the end of last year. Within days a committee was formed to save the pub for the village. The Great Milton Community Pub Limited (GMCP) was created as an Industrial and Provident Society to save the 17th century thatched pub, with support and a grant from the Plunkett Foundation, a charitable organisation that helps communities and local projects. Five months later, over £250,000 has been raised from the village alone, and with a local benefactor and practical help from numerous individuals, organisations and charities, the sale has been completed.

Knife and Fork mulls Cardiff options: Four-strong operator Knife and Fork is mulling the future location of its Woods Brasserie concept in Cardiff Bay – its home for the last 14 years. Woods Brasserie moved into the Pilotage building in Cardiff Bay in 1999 and holds two AA rosettes. Sharon Noakes, a director of Knife and Fork Food, said it is considering “exciting opportunities” for the future, which include a possible relocation to another site or a renewal of the lease with a relaunch of the brand at the Pilotage building. She said: “With yet more expansion plans in the pipeline for the next two years, the decision is being taken to consider the relocation of Woods from Cardiff Bay – the dining culture there having changed since Woods opened 14 years ago.” She said the group is currently viewing new sites within Cardiff city centre and the immediate areas. Knife and Fork Food also operates The Conwy in Pontcanna, The Old Swan Inn in Llantwit Major and The Pilot in Penarth.

Hop Stuff Brewery looks to raise £50,000 through Crowdcube: Hop Stuff Brewery, a new brewery planned for Woolwich, is looking to raise £50,000 for 30% of its equity through crowd-funding website Crowdcube. Founder Simon Yeomans said: “Hop Stuff Brewery offers an opportunity for investors to join a business at the start of something we believe could be special. Local ales are increasingly becoming important for pubs and bars as people push back against the mass-produced, force carbonated, pasteurised and flavourless beers.” A total of 13 investors have pledged £8,450 so far.

Top beer writer to launch venue offering 60 draught products: High profile beer writer Melissa Cole is to launch a new pop-up venue offering 60 draught beer products. Housed in the old public baths, now operated by a community project called CRE8, the venture is called Urban Sessions, and sees beer writer Melissa Cole become a partner in the 17-week long residency, which will offer 60 rotating draught beers a week, alongside boutique spirits and artisan ciders. Cole, who has almost 12,000 followers on Twitter, has teamed up with Mark Banks, who runs successful London bars Powder Keg, Lost Angel and Lost & Co, and Mat Wale, owner of events company Twisted Lemon, to open the venture. Cole told Propel: “On 4 July we are launching the most exciting keg, cask and bottled venue in London right now. We don’t care whether it’s served from a hand-pull, a tap or a bottle as long as it’s damn tasty and made with love, care and attention to detail – because we know that’s how modern drinkers feel too. So, we’re diving straight in at the deep end with over 60 draught products a week, with a strong focus on great beer but also featuring amazing ciders and spirits too.” The new venue will have a strong focus on beer education with testing flights of four to 16 beers, tasting tours, monthly beer-matched dinners, spirit education sessions, meet the brewer events and a bottle shop for beers-to-go. There will also be guest DJs and a programme of guest food trucks, special events and acoustic bands. Cole added: “No two days will be exactly the same - the only consistent thing will be our efforts to make your experience amazing.” Cole will focus on staff training, writing the educational programmes, sourcing beers and liaising with breweries for special nights, meet the brewer events and helping run the corporate entertainment side. She will be co-ordinating the beer and food programme, which is set to include some big name chefs.

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