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Tue 18th Nov 2014 - Propel Tuesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Fitch raises outlook on Wellington, warns on under-investment in estate: Ratings agency Fitch has revised its outlook on Wellington Pub Company, the UK’s largest free-of-tie pub estate with just under 800 pubs. It has raised its recommendation on the company’s fixed-rate securitisation notes to “stable” from “negative”. The move reflects a slowdown in the underlying pubs’ Ebitda decline and the UK’s improving economy. While the “stable” outlook indicates that the agency does not anticipate a change to the ratings over the next 12 to 24 months, the deteriorating asset quality of the portfolio and continuing under-investment represent a risk and may put pressure on the ratings over the longer term. A Fitch note said: “The Wellington securitisation has underperformed in the past six years due to poor operational performance and a shrinking number of portfolio assets. As such, total ebitda has declined by a CAGR of 7% since the peak in March 2008, while ebitda per pub declined by a CAGR of 6.2% within the same period. Although adjusted for bad debt provision, ebitda showed slower decline during the past 12 months to 1.3% year-on-year in the financial year to March 2014 versus 5.3% year-on-year in FY13. This is due to improvements in properties’ foreclosure rates both at industry and company levels, facilitated by the UK’s favourable macroeconomic trends. Notably, Wellington’s properties foreclosure rate declined 30% over the last four quarters. Operating performance remains stable with revenue per pub and operating costs broadly unchanged. Wellington retained around £18m of cash deposit as of end-September 2014, which includes £6m in liquidity reserves and cash from earlier disposals. The tenanted business model makes it challenging for Wellington to adapt to the growing importance of the eating-out market in the UK. Furthermore, less visibility with respect to the tenants’ profitability means that the sustainability of the cash flows generated by tenanted pubs is more difficult to estimate. Wellington’s on-going low capex adversely impacts the property values and the profitability of the pubs – especially in the current market conditions when tenants do not have the financial strength to make sufficient investments themselves. This strategy is viewed as credit-negative. The asset manager estimates that about 51% of the portfolio is suffering from noticeable deferred maintenance (at least £5,000 per pub) with 12% experiencing underinvestment of more than £20,000 per pub. The total average deferred maintenance costs are estimated to be just under £10m. Performance over the last 12 months has been fairly stable with debt metrics largely unchanged.”

Industry News:

US restaurant sales hit record high in October: Restaurant sales in the United States hit a record high in October, helped by lower petrol prices, steady job growth and rising consumer confidence. According to preliminary figures from the US Census Bureau, eating and drinking place sales totalled $48.6bn on a seasonally-adjusted basis in October, which represented an increase of more than $400m over September’s sales volume. The October gain marked the eighth increase in the past nine months, after hitting a weather-related soft patch at the beginning of the year. As a result, eating and drinking place sales stood 6.8% above their year-ago levels, which is a full three percentage-points above the 3.8% gain in total retail sales (excluding foodservice) during the same 12-month period.

Activist fund takes stake in McDonald’s: A New York-based hedge fund known for making activist investments has purchased more than 800,000 shares in McDonald’s, at a cost of around $80m. Jana Partners has not filed official documents suggesting it has an activist investment in the burger chain, but it is taking an activist approach with other investments, such as currently pushing the car rental company Hertz Global Holdings on a succession plan. There were rumours in September that McDonald’s was a target for activist investors, with its price-to-earnings multiple currently about 19x, while Yum! Brands, Wendy’s and the West Coast fast food giant Jack in the Box trade with ratios ranging from 23x to 32x and Burger King has a price-to-earnings multiple of 65. McDonald’s sales in the United States in September were the worst for the chain in more than ten years. US like-for-like sales have fallen every month in the past year, except in April, when they were flat. The company’s share price rose as much as 2% on news of the investment by Jana.

Chase Distillery looks for growth after multi-million pound funding deal: Chase Distillery, based in Herefordshire, which claims to be the world’s first and only single-estate distillery, is looking for significant growth after a multi-million pound funding deal with Santander Corporate and Commercial. The company, founded by William Chase, who sold Tyrrells Potato Chips to Langholm Capital in 2008, grows its own potatoes and apples on its farm in Herefordshire and produces super-premium vodka, gin and liqueurs. It won the title Best Vodka in the World, beating 248 competitors, at the World Spirits Awards in San Francisco. Chase already exports to 27 countries, and plans to use the funding to expand further into international markets and grow its already established reputation in the UK. Adrian Jones, managing director of Chase Distillery, said: “We are really proud of our achievements from our single estate distillery based on our very own farm. We produce some of the finest vodka and gin in the world, and we’re British. We have very ambitious plans and, with the support of Santander, our customers, our suppliers and most importantly our Chase employees, I am wholly confident of our future success.”

Bain Capital and Fresh Direct create new fresh food supplier: Bain Capital, the owner of Brakes Group, and the owner of Fresh Direct, are creating a new fresh food company also called Fresh Direct, but with M&J Seafood, Pauleys and Wild Harvest becoming part of the joint venture. Almost one-third of Brakes’ sales currently comes from fresh and chilled food and the move will create an even broader fresh food offer with capability to deliver fresh products six or seven days per week, from dedicated local fresh depots. The new company and management team will be led by David Burns, the current managing director of Fresh Direct, who will become chief executive of the new company – M&J Seafood, Pauleys and Wild Harvest retain their brand names. Staff at M&J Seafood, Pauleys and Wild Harvest will all transfer to the new company following TUPE consultations. The new company will be jointly owned by Bain Capital, the owners of Brakes Group, and by Nigel Harris, the current joint owner of Fresh Direct. Nigel and his brother Colin Harris will also take active roles in the new company. Ken McMeikan, Brakes Group chief executive, said: “I am delighted to be entering into this joint venture with Fresh Direct because of the significant opportunities this will create for customers in what is the fastest growing part of the foodservice market. Bringing together these four businesses, under Fresh Direct’s leadership, will provide something really special in the marketplace.” The new Fresh Direct will have sales of £400m, double previous levels with staff numbers doubling to 2,000. The depot network increases to 21 from the existing seven. Fresh Direct has traditionally focused on large corporate national and regional customers, numbering around 300. Meanwhile, M&J Seafood, for example, has circa 7,000 independent customers, creating obvious extended network reach in both directions. It is understand that Bain Capital has a majority stake in the new venture, with Nigel Harris and management holding a significant minority stake.

Company News:

New smokehouse concept to expand to five sites by end of 2015: A new smokehouse concept, Blue’s Smokehouse, is set to expand to five sites by the end of 2015. The brand, set up by entrepreneur Carlos Maidana, launched at a Star Pubs & Bars site, The Red Lion in Bracknell in June this year after a £250,000 co-investment – the site is taking £30,000 a week. Now Maidana is to open a second site at the Twickenham Tavern in February 2015 after a similar co-investment – it’s also a Star Pubs & Bars site. Talks are underway over securing another three sites for 2015 with two sites – one tied lease and one a free-of-tie lease – already identified. Maidana, who also operates PS The Pub Company, developed barbecue expertise over years running a corporate catering company. The concept has also input from the company’s executive chef Jackie Weight, the only non-American to have won the Jack Daniel’s Invitational BBQ World Championships. Maidana said: “This has not been an overnight thing – we learned barbecue over years catering at corporate events. It just took us a time to work out how to put our expertise into the fast casual marketplace. We were amazed to see how quickly people discovered our concept in Bracknell. Star Pubs & Bars has been a great business partner, allowing us flexibility or us to do the construction work ourselves to keep costs down. We don’t have an issue with the tie and Star Pubs & Bars have always been there to help with whatever we need.” The company also operates The Grouse and Ale gastro-pub in Lane End, High Wycombe and has just acquired The Yew Tree, Farnham Common, High Wycombe to develop into a gastro-pub.

Tim Martin apologies for length of annual report: JD Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin has apologised for the length and complexity of the company’s annual report. In his introduction the annual report, Tim Martin said: “Boards which frequently refer to their strategies do less well, I believe, than those which try to avoid the word and concentrate instead on the nuts and bolts. A board strategy usually ends up as a type of Maginot Line (for example, a strategy by retailers to expand overseas), whereas a flexible response to ‘events’ is more helpful in creating success. We have also been required to add several pages to our directors’ remuneration report, which is now about twice as long as the original American Constitution. Churchill’s exhortation to officials to ‘pray let me know on one sheet of paper’ would be appreciated by most investors in this context. Britain’s most senior judge, Lord Neuberger, has recently referred to the ‘ever-increasing quantity and often poor quality of legislation over the past thirty years’. He added that ‘regulation is necessary and important, but it must be kept to a minimum’. He further said that ‘where regulation fails, a standard response is that we need more of it, whereas the correct response is that we need different regulation, not more regulation.’ The combined effect of legislation and regulations has been to make company annual reports almost incomprehensible in some cases, as a result of excessive length, the use of business jargon, complex remuneration and other reports and many words and phrases which are neither explained nor defined.”

Porters to relocate from Covent Garden to Berkhamsted: The iconic Porters English Restaurant is relocation from its home in Covent Garden in Central London for the past 35 years to Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire. Director Neil Wornham said Berkhamsted was chosen for the restaurant destination after looking at around 50 other places. He said: “It is lovely. We were looking for a new permanent home for Porters and I looked at about 50 opportunities and Berkhamsted was head and shoulders above others. I thought that we would fit in quite nicely. It is a very exciting opportunity.” The restaurant is due to close its Henrietta Street home on 19 January. It was founded by Richard Bridgeman, the 7th Earl of Bradford, in 1979, together with the Covent Garden Grill next door. Wornham said he could not reveal specific details about the new restaurant but it would merge the qualities of the restaurant and the bar and grill eatery. A statement on the company’s website says: “If plans go, well, as planned we’ll be opening our doors in the middle of February.” It continues: “Our new Porters will be slick, contemporary and very shiny in places, somewhere that we will be very proud of and we will be concentrating all our efforts and working very hard to ensure that our clients are always welcome, cared for and that their custom is appreciated and never taken for granted.” The restaurant will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner along with afternoon tea. Vacancies for the position of head chef and pastry chef are currently being advertised. Dacorum Council has granted an alcohol and late night refreshments licence for the premises at Unit 3, 300 High Street, on the site of the former Post Office building. 

Hard to Find Whisky launches retail experience: Hard To Find Whisky, the specialist global online whisky retailer, and sister company of Hard To Find Records, has opened its first UK whisky store in Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter in a move that will mark a new era of whisky retailing. The Birmingham store also marks Hard To Find Whisky’s transition into physical retailing and is the first of several destination stores planned by the independent retailer across the UK. At just under 2,000 sq ft, boasting 3,000 different collectable, rare and new release whiskies displayed in 22 ceiling-high glass cabinets, the shop will allow customers to be able to peruse and taste whisky, and buy bottlings that range from £25 to £35,000 (for an extremely rare Macallan 50-year-old). Whisky enthusiasts and novices alike will also have the opportunity to take part in any of the fourteen walk-up masterclasses offered to customers in store; from a beginners’ class at £20 per head, to a tasting session of iconic whiskies from ‘silent distilleries’ priced at £1000 per head. Jason Kirby, Hard To Find Whisky’s founder, said: “This is an incredibly exciting time for Hard To Find Whisky, and marks a new chapter in our journey as expert whisky retailers. We’ve built up a very strong online presence by offering an excellent service, and also by helping people from across the globe find some of the rarest and most collectable whiskies in the world, along with all the new releases. We feel that the time is right to turn our unique retail offering into a complete whisky experience at our first destination store in Birmingham.”

Marston’s to create 100 jobs with two new-build pub restaurants in Staffordshire: Marston’s is creating more than 100 jobs with the opening of two new-build pub restaurants in Staffordshire. The company has already hired 50 staff to work at the newly-built Cotton Mill, in Newcastle under Lyne, with some positions still available ahead of its opening next week. It will also soon launch a recruitment drive for 50 employees at the Mulberry Leaves in Leek, which will be welcoming customers from early next year. Area operations manager Dale Cottis said: “We’re extremely excited about our latest pubs, which we hope will build a great reputation locally, offering top quality pub food and an unrivalled selection of cask beers from across the country.”

Seven brands set for Loughborough leisure scheme: Seven brands are confirmed a £20m leisure scheme at the former hospital site in Baxter Gate, Loughborough, Leicestershire, which will open at Easter 2016. Construction of the eight-screen cinema with seven family-oriented restaurants was due to start in late summer 2014, but delays mean building will now start on 5 January 5 2015. Developer Citygrove said the operators committed to the scheme were PizzaExpress, Nando’s, the Asian buffet and bar operator Mimosa, Bella Italia, the Brazilian grill-house chain Preto, the cafe-bar brand Loungers, Starbucks and an eight-screen, 1,118-seat Cineworld cinema. The former Baxter Gate hospital site has remained derelict since 2003.

Neil Gatt – competition for pubs has grown significantly since launch of Pesto in the Pub strategy: Pesto founder Neil Gatt has revealed that competition for quality pub sites has grown significantly since the company launched its Pesto in the Pub strategy three years ago. He said: “We have the capacity to open six to ten sites a year, but selecting the right sites is more important than the speed of growth. Competition for quality pub sites has grown significantly since we started out with the Pesto in a Pub strategy three years ago. We are now developing a nice pipeline for 2015, which should see us moving into new territories, particularly the south.” The company has agreed lease terms with landlord Marston’s to take over the Dicconson Arms in Appley Bridge, outside Wigan, and hopes to open the new restaurant early in 2015 after an extensive £300,000 refurbishment. Gatt said: “We’re very excited about this new opening and I hope it will lead to many more projects with Marston’s.” The renovation will transform the traditional pub into a more contemporary and relaxed 120-cover dining space with a bar, including the creation of a new full-glazed facade, a new external dining terrace and open fires for the winter months.

Geof Collyer – Restaurant Group like-for-likes slowing uncharacteristically versus its peer group: Deutsche Bank’s leisure analyst Geof Collyer has argued that the Restaurant Group’s like-for-likes have uncharacteristically been slowing versus its peer group. He said: “The Restaurant Group’s like-for-likes for the 45 weeks to 9 November increased by 3.0% (DBE of 3.6%), implying likes-for-likes up 1.4% in last 11 weeks versus DBE of 5%. This is a 50 bps slowdown from the 3.5% rise at the 34 week stage. We showed in our preview that, according to the Coffer Peach Business Tracker (CPBT) industry data, casual dining chains, of which Restaurant Group is one of the biggest, had seen like-for-likes up by circa 4.5% in July-September, although this slowed a little in October. Restaurant Group does not put its data into the CPBT, but has been hit by the slowdown in leisure and retail parks; especially, we would imagine, by lower cinema attendances that are down 8% year-to-date, and were down 14% in September. Whichever way you cut it though, it does look that Restaurant Group has modestly underperformed the peer group. By way of mitigation, it doesn’t have any overweight estate position within the M25 region, which has been consistently outperforming the overall index. We now expect Restaurant Group to hit a 3% rise in like-for-likes for the remainder of the year (versus a rise of 3.5% for comp period), helped by a strong cinema release schedule for the rest of 2014. Going into next year and beyond, a strong film roster and no football World Cup should see the like-for-likes recover, along with hopefully a return to real wage growth in the UK economy. We would expect the share price to over-adjust for the level of downgrade, as it had risen 11% over the previous month in anticipation of circa 4% like-for-like rises. On our new forecasts, Restaurant Group is trading on a FY’15E P/E of 20x and an EV/Ebitda multiple of 15.6x versus our target of 16x. High enough for now.”

Bitters ’n’ Twisted to open Bodega bar in Worcester: Bitters ’n’ Twisted Venues, the Birmingham-based bar and restaurant operator, is to open a branch of its premium South American-themed restaurant and late night bar offer Bodega Bar & Canteen in Worcester. The company, founded by owner Matt Scriven in 2006, has taken a 12-year lease on a former baker’s shop, Foregate Patisserie, opposite the Odeon on Foregate Street, Worcester. Scriven said: “We are passionate about great food, great drinks and great service – and it seemed to us there was a real niche in Worcester for a venue offering just that.” The Worcester outlet will be based on the Bodega Bar & Canteen the company already runs in Birmingham. Bitters ’n’ Twisted also runs five other sites in Birmingham, including the Victoria, Island Bar, the Jekyll & Hyde and the Rose Villa Tavern. The property agent Luke Weaver, from Halls Commercial, which handled the Worcester sale to Scriven’s company, said: “Matt has opened a new venue each year as he grows his business, which has quite a reputation among independent chains. I’m sure Bodega will prove to be a massive success and a great addition to the Worcester scene.” In June, Bitters ’n’ Twisted Venues reported an increase in turnover for the year ending 31 August 2013 of 12% to £5.2m.

Premier Inn and Tesco Express to combine in new Southwark development: A new Tesco Express will be part of a development that also includes a Premier Inn hotel on Borough High Street in Southwark, South London. Last year Southwark’s planning committee gave the green light to proposals by King’s College London to knock down of a row of historic shops, offices and warehouses in Borough High Street and replace them with a new low-cost hotel and shops. The new hotel will be part of Whitbread’s Premier Inn chain. Now Tesco has applied for an alcohol licence for a new Tesco Express convenience store as part of the same development. The consultation period on Tesco’s application runs until 5 December.

Developer looks for second high-profile name to pair with Las Iguanas in Swansea: The developer behind the building in Swansea’s Castle Quarter where the Latin American chain Las Iguanas has secured a site is seeking another restaurant chain to occupy the remaining 3,768 sq ft unit on the ground floor of the mixed-use development. The Cardiff-based property company EJ Hales acted on behalf of landlord Coastal Housing to market the site, alongside CLC Surveyors. Phillip Morris, a partner at EJ Hales, said: “It is great boost to this exciting regeneration scheme to secure Las Iguanas. The development occupies an enviable location, at the northern end of Wind Street but also on the eastern edge of the main retail thoroughfare. We’re confident of securing another high-profile restaurant in the new year, which will further enhance the scheme.” Las Iguanas will open the 5,000 sq ft restaurant on Wind Street in spring 2015. It has signed a 25-year lease on the property, at a cost of £90,000 a year. Castle Quarter is a regeneration scheme made up of commercial space and 26 residential units, overlooking Swansea Castle. It is being developed in conjunction with Swansea Council and the Urban Village project, a £25m scheme to revamp Swansea’s high street.

Z Hotels eyes flotation or partial sale: Z Hotels, which aims to offer “luxury at budget prices”, is considering a flotation or partial stake sale of the business. The company is set to double its revenues to £18m this year and is planning to treble in size over the next five years. Chief executive Bev King told a newspaper: “We have five hotels and would like that to grow to 15 by 2019. Within 18 months we would like to sell a stake or look at a partial listing to fund further growth.” Ten new hotels, which will cost about £30m to build, would add 300 jobs to the 120 already employed by the group. King and four other directors jointly own the company and two anonymous footballers have provided financing at various stages of its expansion. Z Hotels operates in London, Liverpool and Glasgow, and will also expand to Bath in 2016. The firm’s “budget and luxury” offering achieves a 98% occupancy rate. The hotels feature beds from Devon and high-end televisions but there are no restaurants or conference rooms. King said: “We don’t advertise because we don’t need to. Our reviews speak for themselves.”

Burger King opens in 100th country with beef-free menu: Burger king has opened in its 100th country, India, with a beef-free menu. The first franchises site in Delhi offers chicken, lamb and vegetarian fare. The company said in a statement: “The Burger King team spent months developing a unique locally sourced menu that has been researched and tested by more than 5,000 customers across eight cities.” Among the “innovative” items on its Delhi menu are Whoppers made from mutton and chicken, and a paneer melt sandwich, made using a fresh cheese popular in South Asian cooking.

Euro Garages applies for permission to build 24-hour Starbucks: Euro Garages has applied for planning permission to demolish the existing garage at Bangor service station on the A55 in North Wales, replace it with an updated garage with a Subway sandwich outlet and then build a Starbucks coffee shop on land opposite the garage. The entire scheme would bring around 40 jobs, against the eight that are currently working at the garage. In a supporting statement, the company’s agent, Town & Country Planning, said: “It is our client’s intention to modernise the current site, which has become dated and run-down, by knocking down the existing buildings and constructing a new one which is in keeping with the company design, along with a new Starbucks drive-through coffee shop.” The new cafe would be on the existing redundant lorry stop. The statement continued: “The current proposal is a replacement and improvement of the existing facilities on site and at this time of recession will provide approximately 40 jobs. The facility will be open 24 hours.” The application will be decided by Gwynedd County Council.

Hartlepool Marina gets new Thai restaurant: A new Thai restaurant, Thai Village, is opening at Navigation Point in Hartlepool Marina after support from the developer Mandale. Thai Village is located in the former Lotus Garden restaurant, which has now been divided into separate units. Joe Darragh, from Mandale, said: “There has been an awful lot of money spent on it, but when it is finished it will something which is totally unique and provides visitors with something different. It has been completely stripped out, new walls, floors and ceiling have been put in as well so it’s been started from scratch.” The restaurant will be run by Joy Totty, who was previously involved with the Thai Harbour restaurant at Navigation Point, while chef Ying Hunter will take charge of the menu. Totty said: “This is an exciting opportunity and we are confident we can be a success. It has been a difficult time for restaurants over the last few years, but things are picking up now and we will offer something a little bit different on our menu. Obviously the food will be Thai, but there will also be Vietnamese and a fusion menu to cater for all sorts of tastes.”

England bowler brews special beer at Marston’s: England bowler Jimmy Anderson personally started the production of a special edition beer at the Marston’s brewery in Burton upon Trent, marking the start of a 12-month ambassadorial role for the beer brand. Anderson told the Burton Mail: “It was great to start the process of brewing my own beer. We’ve been through it step by step, deciding how we want it to taste, and the characteristics it should have. Just wandering around the brewery you can feel the passion everyone has for it. It’s not something I’ve ever seen before, so to get that in-depth knowledge of the whole brewing process was fascinating.” Anderson, one of the most successful bowlers in test history for England, was accompanied by the former international fast bowler Steve Harmison for a visit to the Burton brewery. Gaynor Green, Marston’s marketing manager, said: “We are really looking forward to working with Jimmy over the next year. As a long-time supporter of cricket it was also wonderful for brewery staff and top customers to come and meet two cricketing legends; to be able to ask them questions and have their photos taken. It was a great day.” Marston’s has been associated with English cricket at a national level since 2007 and is committed to supporting the England Cricket Board until 2017.

Ormskirk’s Buck I’th Vine sold above £325,000 asking price: The historic Buck I’th Vine pub in Ormskirk town centre, Lancashire has been sold after agent Fleurets received several offers above the asking price of £325,000 for the freehold. The grade II listed former coaching house has a snug with around 20 dining covers and a smaller tap room with 16 dining covers. Private living accommodation with four bedrooms is on the first and second floors. Ian Taylor, of Fleurets’ Manchester office, said: “We attracted a lot of interest in the sale of the property from the start. In the end we received offers from a number of parties, that were in excess of the guide price. We understand the new owner plans to let the business to a new tenant who will continue operate it as a characterful, town centre pub, offering food.”

Jinnah Group to open restaurant in Bradford: The Jinnah Group, which owns six restaurants across Yorkshire, is to open a seventh, Cafe Jinnah, in The Gatehaus in Little Germany, Bradford after signing a 15-year lease. The Gatehaus is an 11-storey residential glass building built in 2008 with 142 apartments and a retail/leisure unit on the ground floor, close to the soon-to-open Westfield shopping centre. Cafe Jinnah hopes to employ 10 staff and will have around 120 covers in the 4,500 sq ft restaurant. Saleem Akhtar, a partner at Cafe Jinnah, said: “As a group of Bradfordians who are partners in the business, we are delighted to have finally set up a restaurant in the city. We considered a number of opportunities, but felt we had to support the regeneration of the city centre and back the investment being made by the likes of Westfield. We also feel our restaurant has a great location on the Leeds Road gateway into the city centre.” The Jinnah Group has been working with Bradford Council and have received a capital grant through the Bradford City Centre Growth Zone. Bradford Council leader David Green, said: “Cafe Jinnah will be a welcome addition to the city centre. It is in a very prominent position on the corner of Leeds Road and the inner ring road which sees a high volume of passing traffic and will see even more once the Westfield shopping centre is open. The unit has remained vacant and boarded up since the building was completed so I’m delighted it’s to be a high quality cafe/restaurant.” The Jinnah Group’s other restaurants are in Leeds, Harrogate, York, Selby, Flaxton and Malton.

Brewer releases cycling jerseys to go with relaunched seasonal beer: Purity Brewing Company of Warwickshire is selling a range of cycling jerseys to go with its relaunched cycling-inspired seasonal beer, Saddle Black. Head brewer Flo Vialan created the beer after discussions with managing director Paul Halsey about dedicating a drink to the British cycling community. Saddle Black was born from those discussions and became the last brew in the company’s old brewery, as well as the first brew in Purity’s new and up-to-date facility near Stratford-upon-Avon. Halsey said: “As a keen cyclist, I wanted to create a beer dedicated to the British cycling community and as a celebration of the craft that goes into making both beer and bicycles. Brooks England and Pashley Cycles are long established West Midland companies at the forefront of their trade and we saw a synergy between their passion and craftsmanship and our values.” Saddle Black, which is 5.1% abv in cask and 7% in bottle, is made with Chinook and Cascade hops and roasted malts, giving a taste of chocolate and espresso and a smoky, citrussy aroma. The beer and the cycling jerseys are available online and at the brewery shop in Great Alne.

First graduate from Robinson’s Hospitality Apprenticeship announced: Andrew Stirling, from the George and Dragon in Holmes Chapel, Cheshire, has become the first graduate of the Stockport brewer Robinson’s Hospitality Apprenticeship programme. Robinson’s partnered with Charnwood Training Group to launch a series of apprenticeships covering bar staff, kitchen staff, management development and housekeeping in 2013. The apprenticeships, which are open to any pub, bar, hotel and restaurant in the North West of England, are funded by the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce Employer Ownership of Skills pilot and developed in collaboration with North West pub and restaurant companies. Stirling undertook a Level 2 Apprenticeship course in Team Leading over a 12-month period. The course enabled him to achieve a number of recognised qualifications that are designed to provide the knowledge and skills necessary to be effective in licensed hospitality premises. He has now signed up to the Level 3 Apprenticeship in Hospitality Supervision and Management. William Robinson, managing director of the pubs division at Robinsons, said: “When we embarked on this programme last year, we did so with the goal of helping to pave a career in hospitality and provide better prospects for those who work within the industry. We are extremely proud to spearhead this fantastic programme and help others prosper within the Robinsons family of pubs and beyond.”

Hummus Bros launches bond to raise £375,000: Hummus Bros, the London-based chain serving healthy Mediterranean food, founded by Christian Moutsset and Ronen Givon, has launched a bond on Crowd2Fund to raise £375,000. The bond pays 8% interest and is for 60 months. The bond will allow three more high street branches to open as well as support the continuing expansion of its network of pop-ups, doubling the size of the business. Hummus Bros, founded in August 2005, has served close to 2,000,000 Londoners over the past nine years. In March 2014, Jon Hassall, previously UK operations director of Patisserie Valerie, joined the business and has helped rebrand all the current units, pushing sales up 33% year-on-year and the restaurant Ebitda up 413%. Christian Mouysset said “This is a perfect time to expand our business given that we have spare capacity in our central kitchen and sales in our high street branches with the new branding are growing strongly.” Hummus Bros has chosen Crowd2Fund as a partner to issue this bond as they have a large network of high net worth individuals that have shown interest in this type of offering. Hassall added: “There are some good sites available in central London in areas that don’t have any healthy Mediterranean food offers such as ours.” To invest in the Hummus Bros Bond visit: www.crowd2fund.com/hbros.

Marston’s secures consent for 13th Scottish new–build site: Marston’s has secured licensing and planning for its 13th site in Scotland. The company has seven sites now open in Scotland and five further sites fully consented in terms of licensing and planning (and due to open in the next 12 months). Yesterday, the North Ayrshire Licensing Board approved plans for a 180 cover pub restaurant on a site (adjacent to the A78) which Marston’s is ‘developing out’ with plans also for a 27 bed lodge, separate coffee shop, fast food outlet and a small parade of leisure/retail units (to be operated by others). The Licensing Board had adopted a restrictive over-provision policy but anxieties to see the overall development move forward outweighed concerns about the area in general. Solicitors John Gaunt appeared for Marston’s.

Wetherspoon buys Dublin suburb nightclub site: JD Wetherspoon has purchased a former nightclub in Blanchardstown, a large suburb of Dublin with a population of 68,156. The company has purchased The Light Nightclub in Westend Shopping Park, Westend Commercial Village. It will be investing more than three million euros developing the site. Wetherspoon has planning and licensing permission to develop the former nightclub into a pub. It still requires planning permission in order to undertake development work in the garden. The company opened its first pub in the Republic of Ireland, in Blackrock in July and will be opening its second pub in the Republic in Dun Laoghaire on 16 December. It has also acquired a site in Swords. At present the Blanchardstown and Swords sites do not have on site or opening dates. Wetherspoon chief executive John Hutson said: “We are delighted to have purchased our new property in Blanchardstown and to open it as a Wetherspoon pub in due course.”

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