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Tue 9th Feb 2021 - Luke Johnson lines up acquisition of Chapel Down beer business
Luke Johnson lines up acquisition of Chapel Down beer business: Chapel Down, England’s leading winemaker, is to dispose of its Curious Drinks business and assets, comprising the Curious beer and cider brands and the Curious Brewery and restaurant, to a NewCo, established by Risk Capital Partners, which is led by Luke Johnson. Subject to the granting of HM Revenue & Customs licences to Risk Capital Partners, Chapel Down intends to place Curious Drinks into administration, following which Risk Capital Partners (RCP) will acquire the business and assets from the administrators. The company stated: “The decision follows a strategic review by the board, which was undertaken as a consequence of the effects of the covid-19 pandemic on the hospitality industry. As disclosed in our interim results released on 30 September 2020, with 90% of its beer sold to the on-trade, Curious Drinks has been significantly impacted by the closure of pubs, bars, restaurants and hotels and other hospitality venues and events due to the UK government imposed lockdowns. In contrast, Chapel Down’s wine and spirit business, with an established strong brand and a more multichannel route to market has thrived, with overall volume growth of 38% in 2020. Increased focus and sales to supermarkets and other off premise retailers, and booming direct sales on-line have more than compensated for the loss of sales through the on-trade channel. This has created a significant opportunity to further grow Chapel Down and create value for shareholders. The board of Chapel Down has therefore decided that given the competitive strength of the wine business, it is in the best interests of the group and its shareholders to focus on building the Chapel Down wine brand and business and to exit the Curious Drinks business. RCP has extensive experience in hospitality and drinks and we believe they can provide the award-winning Curious business with the investment and support it needs to fulfil its exciting growth potential. There will be no redundancies as part of the Disposal. The effect of the Disposal, for which Chapel Down will not receive any consideration, is to remove the Curious business from the Chapel Down Group and with it the attendant net debt in Curious. This will reduce Chapel Down’s unaudited net debt from £7.2m to £0.1m with £4.6m cash on a proforma basis at 31 December 2020. The appointment of administrators and subsequent completion of the Disposal will be conditional on (1) the grant by HMRC of various excise licences to RCP, (2) the consent of HSBC as a secured creditor of Curious and (3) the consent of administrators to their appointment. As such, it is not possible to provide a confirmed date for completion of the Disposal.” Frazer Thompson, chief executive of Chapel Down Group, said: “The covid-19 pandemic has upturned the best laid plans of businesses all over the world and has required companies to respond to the crisis with flexibility and agility. In our case that involved pivoting our multichannel strategy to have a stronger focus on supermarkets and e-commerce direct sales to consumers for our wines which resulted in volume sales growth of 38% in 2020. Demand and respect for English wines and Chapel Down in particular, is growing all the time, and as the leading brand and business we see a significant opportunity and a very bright future for Chapel Down. We certainly won’t be abandoning the hospitality business – we love it – and will support its return vigorously with our wines and spirits. It has, however, been a very difficult year for the Curious Drinks business which, as a young brand with 90% of its sales to the on-trade hospitality sector, has been severely impacted by the uncertainty and frequent shuttering of that industry. Following a strategic review, the board has taken the decision to focus our energy and resources on building the Chapel Down brand and business to ensure that we continue to flourish. While this has been a difficult decision, we are very pleased to have found in Risk Capital Partners an excellent home for Curious Drinks – and the Curious team – where the business will be able to fulfil its exciting growth potential. I’m delighted that we will be able to offer Curious Drinks shareholders shares in Chapel Down Group. Looking ahead, thanks to yet another excellent harvest in 2020 we will be able to release more wine for sale, whilst also putting aside more base wine for future growth. We look to the future with increasing confidence and will continue to drive the business for the benefit of all our stakeholders. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the team at Curious Drinks and the brewery, and all those customers and suppliers who have supported it over the years. I look forward to seeing its continued success in the coming years under new ownership.” Luke Johnson, founder of Risk Capital Partners, said: “We see terrific potential in the Curious Drinks business, and we’re very excited about its future, despite the challenges of the past year. Brewing will always be a cornerstone of British culture, and the craft beer revolution has only strengthened that. Curious is a great brand made in a fabulous facility, and with our support we believe the business can be developed further. We are particularly pleased to be taking on all Curious employees, who bring with them a wealth of insight and knowledge.”

Lord – Judge says we do have a case for legal challenge against the restrictions placed on hospitality: Sacha Lord, night-time adviser for Greater Manchester, has said that a judge agrees that he has a case for his legal challenge against the restrictions placed on hospitality over the past year. Lord tweeted yesterday evening: “Judge Pearce agrees we do have a case in the High Court. It is arguable that a meal with alcohol is not necessary. It is also arguable that closing pubs that don’t serve food discriminates sectors of our society. We have been given a two-day trial. Date pending.” In December, Lord said the government had tried to “silence” part of his legal challenge. He has been battling for Downing Street to publish evidence that supports the tough restrictions imposed on pubs and restaurants. He has argued the sector has been treated unfairly, with restrictions causing a “disproportionate amount of harm to some of the most disadvantaged in our society”. In December, Lord served papers to the High Court as his legal battle continued. But he subsequently said the government had now refused to release its Equality Impact Assessment Report (EIA) unless he signs a non-disclosure agreement. He said this was “another bullying tactic” used to delay and prevent the discussion surrounding hospitality closures. 

London-based Indian food-tech start-up opens debut site, plans five more in next three months: London-based Indian food-tech start-up Pataka has opened its debut site and plans to expand to another five locations across the capital in the next three months. Founded by Arjun Baljee, whose family runs numerous restaurants in India, Pataka has opened at Adrian’s Restaurant in Victoria. Pataka is using closed restaurant spaces to create its dishes. With no storefront, Pataka is run from what Baljee calls “bright kitchens”. He said Pataka, which means “firework” in Hindi, seeks to bring “innovative Indian food cooked right and delivered as though it’s just come off the stove”. While traditional Indian dishes are available, the menu also includes Tandoor Spiced Baby Chicken with Pataka’s authentic tandoori masala; a chili chutney; and Truffle Pecorino Kulcha with black truffle oil, shitake, pecorino and cheddar.

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