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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Mon 6th Jan 2014 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

La Tasca secures up to £7.5m of new funding: Spanish tapas chain La Tasca, led by Simon Wilkinson, has secured a new loan facility of up to £7.5m from its existing banks. Principal bank Kaupthing and Commerzbank have provided a facility of up to £6m with an additional £1.5m available, with the loans facilities in place through to 30 June 2016. The company stated: “As part of this arrangement, two ordinary shares have been issued in La Tasca Holdings Limited to the group banks by way of a debt for equity swap.” The fresh investment came at the end of a year that saw the company’s turnaround progressing well with like-for-like Ebitda up by 58% and turnover moving above £50m on a moving annual total basis. A new La Tasca site was opened at Marine Point, Wirral and eight sites were refurbished. The additional funding is expected to allow the company to build a site pipeline and refurbish existing sites – a new site at the Metrocentre in Gateshead is lined up for 2015. La Tasca has filed accounts that show the company made an operating loss of £3,660,000 in the year to 24 February 2013 on turnover of £43,425,000. The year before it had an operating loss of £3,673,000 on turnover of £50,193,000. The most recent financial year saw one site acquired, three sold to third parties and 19 returned to landlords to leave an estate of 45 restaurants at the year-end.

Industry News:

The first Propel Multi Club Conference of 2014 open to bookings: The first Propel Multi Club Conference of 2014, to be held on Thursday 13 March at the Lancaster Gate Hotel, London, is now open for bookings. Multi site pub, restaurant and foodservice companies can claim up to two free places each. E-mail to reserve places.

Craft distilling sees boom in the US: Craft distilling, like craft brewing, is in the midst of a boom in the US. Less than a decade ago, there were 70 distilleries in the US – now there are 623, producing everything from whiskey, gin, vodka and rum to less-common spirits such as absinthe. Industry experts believe the number will rise to 750 by the end of 2014.

Batemans marketing director suffers serious ski accident: Jaclyn Bateman, marketing director at Lincolnshire-based Batemans Brewery, was admitted to a hospital in Austria after a serious ski accident. She told her followers on Twitter: “(I’m) in hospital in Austria with three fractures in my pelvis and a broken bone in my right hand – not where I expected to see 2013 out and 2014 in.”

McDonald’s struggles to shift “premium” Mighty Wings: McDonald’s in the US is to repeat the time-limited sale of Mighty Wings after premium pricing meant they failed to sell in sufficient numbers. The company still has 20% of its original supply of chicken wings left. McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson has acknowledged that one reason the wings didn’t sell well was that the price was ‘not the most competitive’. The wings were priced at $2.99 for three – well above competitor KFC’s pricing of five wings for $3.99. “Mighty Wings are proving once again that we can’t sell premium items in large numbers because we still have the Dollar Menu,” one franchisee said in the anonymous survey. According to the Wall Street Journal, McDonald’s franchisees have been told they must participate in another Mighty Wings promotion or pay for the excess inventory.

Company News:

Trust Inns reports stable profits: Trust Inns, the tenanted operator owned by businessman Trevor Hemmings, has reported turnover increased to £53,447,000 in the year to 31 March 2013, up from £43,248,000 the year before. Pre-tax profit before interest was £9,728,000 compared to £9,813,000 in the year prior. Profit before tax was £2,261,000 compared to £2,118,000 the year before. Trust Inns has net assets of £88,365,000 while the carrying value of its assets has been adjusted down by £3,682,000 to £228,032,000.

Mitchells & Butlers Premium Country Dining Group site hit by extended flooding: A Mitchells & Butlers Premium Country Dining Group pub, The Bathampton Mill, Bath has remained closed since Christmas Eve after the River Avon flooded the pub. Heavy rain left the pub surrounded by several feet of water, filling the cellar and damaging equipment in the kitchens. Staff had to be rescued by Avon Fire and Rescue on Christmas Eve and the pub cancelled all of its Christmas Day and Boxing Day bookings. Sally Ellison, spokesman for Mitchells & Butlers, said the continuing bad weather had prevented repair work from starting. “We are closed until further notice following more heavy rain fall in the last few days and we are waiting for the water levels to subside. We are working with our contractors to start repairs to the building as soon as possible so we can get the restaurant open and trading again as soon as we can.”

JD Wetherspoon picks up two more sites: JD Wetherspoon has acquired two more sites. In Brentwood, Essex, the company is to convert a Pizza Hut site in a £1.2 million refurbishment. The company has been given planning consent to transform the former Pizza Hut at 16 High Street, with the company saying it will “create new local jobs and enhance the vitality and viability of Brentwood town centre”. Mick Norcross, owner of Brentwood’s Sugar Hut, said: “I hesitate to speak out about it because I might sound like a disgruntled trader, but I really do think we are getting to the point where the High Street is become over-saturated with this kind of thing. ” Meanwhile, more than £1m is to be spent refurbishing one of Beverley’s most popular pubs – the company has confirmed it has leased The Cross Keys after months of speculation. A JD Wetherspoon spokesman said: “There will be an investment of a minimum of £1m for the refurbishment work. It will probably take three to four months to complete the refurbishment.”

Famous Beatles pub, The Jacaranda, to re-open: The privately owned Jacaranda, the iconic Liverpool bar, best known for being the first venue to host The Beatles, is to reopen this year. The Jacaranda closed down in mysterious circumstances on 31 October 2011, however, it has been revealed through the pub’s official Facebook page, that the Slater Street venue is to re-open no later than summer this year. The Jacaranda, or The Jac as it is popularly known, has a rich history linked with The Beatles. It was founded in 1957 by Allan Williams, the Fab Four’s first manager and “the man who gave them away”.

Chicago Leisure closes Stratford site: Chicago Leisure, the company that bought ten sites out of the administration of Atmosphere Clubs and Bars, closed its Stratford Chicago Rock Café site just before Christmas after failing to agree new lease terms with the property’s landlord. The venue, in Greenhill Street, first opened in 1999. Chicago Leisure marketing director Jae Hopkins told the local newspaper: “We’re very sad to be leaving the town and particularly at this time of year. Unfortunately we have not been able to agree a lease with the landlord of the Stratford venue.” The closure leaves Maison, No.1 Shakespeare Street, and strip club Caz Bar as the only late-night venues in Stratford.

Sheffield multi-siter to make £500,000 co-investment with Punch: Sheffield multi-siter Danny Grayson will start a £500,000 co-investment with Punch Taverns today at The Yew Tree in the city’s Loxley New Road. Grayson, who also runs Punch’s Champs and The Sportsman in Sheffield, said: “There will be major work conducted throughout the pub with new flat screens fitted to screen live sporting events and a new external drinking area will be created. I will also be introducing a new food menu as well as expanding the drinks range and offering promotions. The plans look fantastic; we will be offering the community something different and a range of facilities to suit all.” Punch Taverns’ partnership development manager Andrew Longley added: “It’s great that Punch can invest in their pubs and we essentially want to reposition The Yew Tree as one of the leading pubs providing great drinks and sports coverage in Sheffield.”

Loungers reports 8.6% like-for-likes in December: Cafe bar brand Loungers has reported 8.6% like-for-like sales growth in December and year-on-year net sales up 49.6% to £3,458,000. Significantly, net sales for the 41-strong groups’ six Cosy Club sites exceeded £1m and accounted for 30.8% of overall sales. Managing director Alex Reilley said: “We’re extremely pleased to report another December of strong like-for-like sales and have seen countless records, at both unit and company level, broken in the process. The performance of the Cosy Clubs is particularly noteworthy and is a strong sign of the Cosy Club brand really beginning to find its groove.” Reilley confirmed that a deal for a Cosy Club site in Bristol has been agreed and is with solicitors – and that the group has actively stepped up its search for more opportunities for the Cosy Club brand. “We’ve spent a lot of time in the last 12 months finessing the Cosy Club brand, which, coupled with how strongly the Cosy Clubs have traded in the last few months, means we feel ready to put our foot down a little more. The Lounge brand will continue to remain the main growth engine for the business but, of the 15 openings we have planned this year, we’d like two or three to be Cosy Clubs. We conservatively believe there’s potential for at least 70 Cosy Club sites nationally on top of 250+ potential Lounge sites.” Next up for Loungers is the opening of Pico Lounge in Glossop on 22nd January. 

Castle Rock reports robust financial year: Castle Rock Brewery, the award-winning Nottingham brewer and pub operator, has produced a robust set of operating figures for the year ended 31st March 2013. Brewery sales continued to grow strongly as per forecasts although pub sales declined slightly on the back of a very wet summer, continued economic uncertainty and a couple of disposals. Managing director Colin Wilde said: “The trading climate in 2012 is well documented. We have seen some exceptional performances in our pub and brewing businesses during the 2013 calendar year and we are confident that they will be reflected in the March 2014 numbers. December sales were very strong across the group. We have some very exciting opportunities in 2014, not least the development of the Willowbrook (acquired in November 2013) and the plans at East Midlands Airport. We will certainly be entering 2014 on the front foot.”

Fever Bars places Nuneaton nightclub on the market – with a restrictive covenant: Fever Bars has placed the former Liquid and Envy nightclub in Nuneaton, bought from Luminar last summer, on the market with a restrictive covenant. The building, once Nuneaton’s premier nightspot, has traded previously as Maddisons and Millennium and Libertys. Fever Bars has a second nightclub in the town, based in Newdegate Street. The property is on the market through Gerald Eve and has a restrictive covenant preventing its future use as a nightclub. “The nightclub was sold last summer by Luminar to Fever Bars,” a spokesperson said. “We are now acting for them seeking to sell on the property, but with a restrictive covenant preventing continued nightclub use. No deal has yet been secured.” The venue has been closed since 2012.

Douglas Jack – The Restaurant Group is expected to sustain double-digit earnings growth: Numis Securities leisure analyst Douglas Jack has forecast that the Restaurant Group, due to give a trading update this Thursday, is likely to be able to sustain double-digit earnings growth in the medium term and pay off all its debt. Issuing a “Buy” note with a 600p target price, he said: “Like-for-like sales rose 3.5% in the 45 weeks to 10 November, against a backdrop of a flat cinema box office (attendance down 3-4%; pricing up circa 4%) and airport passenger volumes rising 3.2%. Like-for-like comps are very tough for the last seven weeks of the year, but we expect minimal changes to forecasts. We expect to hold our profit before tax forecasts (2014E PBT £71.7m; consensus £71.5m): festive trading should have been reasonably strong across the sector. For The Restaurant Group, the 2014E outlook is good due to easy weather comps (spring snow and a summer heat-wave) and undemanding cinema comps (Jan-Nov 2013 attendance was 1.7% below the ten-year average) as well as improving economic growth and employment. It is difficult to envisage another re-rating from almost 20x P/E December 2014E (10.5x EV/EBITDA), but the Restaurant Group should be capable of sustaining double-digit earnings growth over the medium-term, whilst paying off almost all its debt.”

Wadworth releases Best Intentions low alcohol beer: Wiltshire-based brewer and retailer Wadworth has released a beer called Best Intentions, a lower alcohol beer for the January ‘squeeze’. The company stated: “Best Intentions is brewed with less alcohol and less sugars which means less calories, and so it really is a less fattening alternative to the average pint. It is also going to be sold at a lower price point to Wadworth’s other ales. This is possible due to the beer duty relief on beers of 2.8% abv which came into effect on October 1, 2011, and to Wadworth’s decision to pass on the full benefit of the duty relief to their customers, so that the price at the pump is around a welcome £2.50 a pint.”

Turtle Bay to open in Leamington Spa: Caribbean restaurant chain Turtle Bay is to open in Leamington Spa town centre. New River Retail has gained consent to convert an empty shop in Regent Court – which saw the opening of a new Nando’s last year – into a branch of Turtle Bay, which would employ 55 people. In its planning application statement, the firm also stated that the restaurant’s management would work with residents in the surrounding homes to ensure that noise levels are kept to a minimum during closing time at the end of each evening.

Freehold of Barfly sold for £3.8m: Iconic live music venue Barfly in Camden – which has played host to some of the biggest names in music including The Killers, Coldplay, Blur, and Oasis – has been sold by Coffer Corporate Leisure & Davis Coffer Lyons, on behalf of property company, Solitaire Group. The freehold interest was purchased by a private Greek investor for £3.8m, representing a 5.54% yield. The building is currently let to Barfly Club Limited on the remainder of a 20-year lease expiring 2022 at a rent of £222,833 per annum. Barfly Club Ltd is part of live venue and artist management company the Mama Group, which owns ten other live music venues across the UK as well as managing over 40 musical artists. Paul Tallentyre, head of pubs at Davis Coffer Lyons said: “The demand for central London pubs is extremely strong at present whether they are on an investment basis or available as trading entities with vacant possession. The investment yields or multiples of profits being paid are at all time record levels. This is partly due to limited supply pressure but mainly because a plethora of different buyer types, (with) pub companies, institutions, and foreign investors are chasing this asset class.”

Atwill Pubs aims for estate of 20 this year: Atwill Pubs, which has just re-opened The Beartown Cock, formerly The Antelope, in Congleton aims to have an estate of 20 pubs by the end of this year. The independent Chester-based company was formed in 2008 and owns pubs across north Wales, south Cheshire and the north west. Linda Newton, group operations manager for Atwill Pubs, said: “Each pub and each town has its own character, and we’re not into that corporate idea of bringing in managers from elsewhere to run things. We feel that local people know their area the best, and we want to work with them.”

Historic Scottish pub re-opens after £1m investment: One of Scotland’s most historic pubs has risen from the ashes thanks to two local businessmen, at a cost of nearly £1 million. The Star and Garter, in Linlithgow, West Lothian, was razed to the ground in a fire in 2010. The building, which had stood at the heart of the community for more than 250 years, was left a dilapidated shell, and stood empty for two years, before local property developer Ross Wilkie and his childhood friend David Kennedy stepped in. It was so badly damaged, they were able to buy the former pub for just £160,000, but it took them another £800,000 to bring it back to its former glory.

Successful publican plans £400,000 fish restaurant: A pub landlord who turned a closed pub into a thriving business inside 18 months now plans to open a fishing port’s only fish restaurant. Christian Wilson, owner of The Captain Nelson Tavern on Irish Street in Maryport, Cumbria, told his local newspaper that a fishing town without a fish restaurant looked like it was in decline. Wilson, who bought The Captain Nelson, known locally as The Vatican, at an auction in 2012 after going along to buy a house, said the pub had already gained a reputation for its fish and chips and the restaurant would provide an opportunity to build on that. He has submitted a planning application to Allerdale Council for an extension to the pub to house the restaurant, and also hopes to build a small hotel with nine double bedrooms. Wilson said he hoped that most of his fish would come from local fishermen, and he also wanted a fishmonger-type operation attached to the restaurant so that people could buy fresh fish. 

Greene King promises ‘more locally brewed ales’ at refurbished Lass O’Gowrie: Greene King has promised “an even stronger focus on real ale and a wider selection of locally-brewed cask ales alongside our own ales” at The Lass O’Gowrie pub in Manchester when it reopens in a few weeks under a new tenant. Greene King began advertising for someone new to take over the pub in November, after a dispute with the tenant, Gareth Kavanagh, over falling sales. Turnover dropped after the BBC left its site in central Manchester across the road from the pub. Kavanagh was due to leave the pub today (Monday). Greene King said: “We are investing in The Lass O’Gowrie with a major redevelopment to improve this popular ale-house. The pub will remain independently run and the new tenant will take over shortly. The pub will re-open in a few weeks once it has been refurbished, with an even stronger focus on real ale and a wider selection of locally-brewed cask ales alongside our own ales.” The pub will now be run by John Rowlinson, a successful local pub operator, who told The Manchester Evening News: “The Lass O’Gowrie is an iconic pub and I am very proud to be taking it forward. I am certain that the refurbishment we are planning will firmly cement The Lass’s place in Manchester as a first-rate real ale pub.”

Young’s plans branded fish and chip shop: Seafood company Young’s is to open its first branded fish and chip shop, in Cambridge. The new shop will open this month, and will be a revamped version of an existing fish and chip shop in the university town, from long-time owners, award-winning brothers Mark and Pete Petrou. Young’s Seafood will refit the brothers’ shop, and rename it “Young’s Fish & Chips, brought to you by the Petrou Brothers”. The site will be the first Young’s branded shop on the UK high street, and will offer a take-away service as well as a restaurant seating area. Mark Petrou claims the new plans a “significant achievement” for the sector. He said: “The involvement of a major retail brand into the fish and chip sector highlights how far the industry has come in the last few years. We honestly believe that in having Young’s Seafood Limited involved in the sector is a significant achievement and one which can be good for the industry as a whole.”

Highways chiefs withdraw objection to Marston’s new-build: Highways officials have made a u-turn and backed plans for a Marston’s new pub and restaurant in Welwyn Garden City – having initially warned the development could be dangerous. Hertfordshire County Council’s highways department has now backed the bid to build on derelict land near the corner of Bessemer Road and Bridge Road East. It had initially called for the application by brewers Marston’s Inns and Taverns to be rejected, saying it failed to provide safe entrance and exit to the site. But the objection has been withdrawn after new access arrangements were agreed.

BrewDog beer worth £40,000 stolen from warehouse: The beer retailer Ales by Mail is asking pubs, bars and off-licences to report anyone trying to sell contraband BrewDog beers after 16,000 bottles were stolen from its warehouse in Essex. The beer, with a retail value of around £40,000, includes three prototype brews, Interstellar, Hobo Top and Brixton Porter, plus one of the brewery’s recent launches, Moshi Moshi. Ales By Mail distributes the beers on behalf of the Scottish brewer. Paul Kruzycki, founder and managing director of Ales By Mail, said: “It will be obvious to any business offered these BrewDog beers that they were stolen from us. They are niche craft beers and can only be ordered through the BrewDog website. I’d appeal to any business approached to contact us or their local police immediately. As well as the blow to the business, the thieves also took personal items belonging to staff, and have caused a great deal of distress.” CCTV camera footage from the Ales by Mail warehouse in Billericay shows a gang of between ten and 15 thieves, who broke into the warehouse between midnight and 2am last Monday, 30 December, and loaded the beer into a van. A reward is on offer for information leading to the recovery of the beer and the arrest of the thieves. Anyone with information is asked to contact Paul Kruzycki on 01277 523003, or email

Micro-pub opens in Stratford-upon-Avon: A one-room micro-pub that shuts its doors at 8pm and doesn’t sell lager has opened in Stratford-upon-Avon. Bill O’Brien has opened The Stratford Alehouse with no hot food, no television, no music, no gaming machines, and no children. He said: “This is a return to basics and getting back to the traditional one-room local. All of our cask ales are locally-sourced from smaller breweries wherever possible.” Beers will be on stillages, served straight from the barrel via gravity with no gas or line. Cask ales, ciders, and wines will all be on sale, but there are no alcopops and no lager. “We’ve perhaps got the only Premises Licence in the UK which actually forbids us to sell it,” he said. All drinks are served to its tables and they all cost £3.

Charles Wells partners ex-M&B executive for new concept: Bedford-based brewer and retailer Charles Wells is partnering former Mitchells & Butlers executive Chris Gerard to launch a new concept in Bedford. The De Parys Hotel, in De Parys Avenue, will re-open as d’Parys in February and feature a focus on nostalgia with a “tuck shop, a large collection of local artefacts and home-made gelato”. The £1.3 million renovation by Apostrophe Pub, a new company set up by Gerard, will feature “all that is great about Bedford from brewing, education and industry”. Alongside donated items from the Bedford community there will be memorabilia from the Charles Wells brewery and furniture inspired by Bedford’s industrial past. D’Parys’ managing partner Alfie Molinaro has invited Bedford residents to donate artefacts to the new site. He said: “The brand-new d’Parys will embody all that is great about our historic town. We will be selling Bedford-brewed beers in our contemporary bar, using locally sourced ingredients from the best Bedford has to offer and even have an old baker’s table and materials from the old Britannia Ironworks on display. We are now asking our fellow Bedfordians to donate their bit of Bedford to help us exemplify the town’s heritage throughout the building, whether it’s an old tie, or books from school days, or a photo which illustrates a favourite memory of the town.” Gerard rolled out Vintage Inns during a long career at Mitchells & Butlers. He has gone on to set up the award-winning Innventure, which operates six gastro-pubs, including the Cross Keys in Saffron Walden, a Charles Wells pub, and the Wellington in Welwyn, a Greene King site. It also operates the Broadway in Letchworth, a high-volume carvery that proved a carvery operation can work highly successfully in a town centre location. Innventure’s D’arry’s Wine Shop site in Cambridge was used as a template for a potential managed division roll-out by Greene King. The d’Parys website describes the concept as “a new world-class, individual business with its own unique character shaped by the architecture, history and location of our building on De Parys Avenue in Bedford. Opening in February 2014, d’Parys will be all about premium d’rinking, d’ining, and d’reaming in the heart of Bedford. Open the door to d’Parys and you will find an all-fresh food restaurant, a Bedford beer led bar, a tuck shop offering nostalgic sweets complete with handmade gelato and 14 boutique bedrooms. All set within a transformed De Parys Hotel building boasting a unique mix of stylish and contemporary design features with lots of individual touches from Bedford’s heritage in schooling and brewing.” The Charles Wells partnership with Gerard is the latest example of the company’s ability to forge partnerships with high quality multi-site retailers – Yummy Pub Company, Steve Wilkins and Peach Pub Company and Mark Butler are among the company’s existing retail partners. 

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