Molson Coors acquires Aspall: Molson Coors has acquired Suffolk-based cider-maker Aspall for an undisclosed sum. The deal comes after a year of what Aspall chairman Barry Chevallier Guild described as “close discussions”. Other bidders had expressed interest in the company, according to previous reports. “Molson Coors is known for respecting the provenance of local brands it has acquired in the past, and has the scale and expertise to accelerate our growth in the premium cider category in the UK and beyond,” he said. Molson Coors bought Cornwall brewery Sharps, maker of cask ale Doombar, in a deal worth £20m in 2011. Molson Coors UK and Ireland managing director Phil Whitehead said: “Both companies share a similar history that is deeply rooted in family, dedication to customers and a commitment to excellence. The Chevalliers have been producing cider for almost 300 years and their range of brands enhances our existing portfolio. We’re now looking forward to helping Aspall become the number one premium cider in the UK and building on the huge potential of the Aspall vinegars, as part of a need to premiumise our portfolio.” Aspall’s cider and its range of vinegars will continue to be made in Suffolk where it employs 127 people. Members of the Chevalier family, the eighth generation since Aspall was founded, will remain in the business. UK sales of cider hit £1bn in 2017, a three-year high.

Arc Inspirations boosts turnover and Ebitda as it reduces complexity by slimming brand portfolio: Arc Inspirations, the Leeds-based bar and restaurant operator of the Banyan and Manahatta brands led by Martin Wolstencroft, has reported turnover rose 17.5% to £22.2m in the year to 2 April 2017. The company stated: “We rebranded Napa in Roundhay and Kobe in Horsforth into Banyans in October and November 2016 respectively. These sites have performed fantastically since opening for rebranding with sales and profitability ahead of expectations. The rebranding of Kobe and Napa is in line with our strategy to reduce the number of brands we have. Having multiple brands uses a lot of resource in terms of menu planning and design, brand and concept management and team training and development. We believe we can achieve significant efficiencies by consolidating our brands and creating a core number of brands that our customers know and trust. As part of this strategy, we closed Trio Headingly in September 2017 as it was no longer one of our core brands and we did not think the site could be rebranded into one of our core brands. Over the past four years, we have invested more than £14m in the business opening new units or refurbishing existing ones. This investment has increased our depreciation charge each year as we depreciate over five years and also results in significant pre-opening and opening costs that get expensed to the profit and loss account in the year of opening. We have therefore made a loss before tax of £592,049 (2016: profit of £11,821). However, with depreciation, tax, interest and exceptional items (pre-opening and opening costs) added back our Ebitda increased from £2m to £2.4m. Ebitda as a percentage of sales increased from 10.5% to 10.8%. This represents a fantastic performance. We have seen our portfolio increase from 13 to 15 sites during 2017 and we have plans for further expansion in 2018.”

Barworks reports turnover and Ebitda boost: Barworks, the central London bar and pub operator, has reported turnover increased 15.6% to £13,655,593 for the year ending 30 June 2017 compared with £11,809,788 the year before. Adjusted Ebitda was up 25.7% to £1,410,678 compared with £1,122,082 the previous year. Pre-tax profit rose to £541,269 compared with £356,617 the year before, according to accounts filed at Companies House. Barworks opened two sites during the year – The Griffin and The Fountain & Ink – taking the total number to 12. In October, the company changed its bank from NatWest to HSBC that would “improve cash flow over the short to medium term”. A report by the directors accompanying the accounts stated: “All sites are held under a leasehold basis, with the exception of The Commercial Tavern, which is held freehold. All sites are free-of-tie. The gross profit percentage improved to 68.9% due to greater efficiencies at operating level. Staff costs – including head office staff – improved as a percentage of turnover, also due to improved operating efficiencies. Net assets at the balance sheet date rose from £6m to £6.2m due to new sites added in the year. Adjusted Ebitda increased to £1.4m. This was the result of recently added sites growing turnover and contributing higher Ebitda as they approach maturity. Steady expansion of the group will continue, in much the same way as achieved to date. There will be a refurbishment programme for the older sites and newer sites will continue to be supported as they move to maturity. The group changed its bankers in October 2017, moving from NatWest to HSBC. Loans with an interest only period and longer repayment profile were negotiated, which will improve cash flow over the short to medium term. The group remains well positioned to make further core and strategic investments in the future, partly funded by cash generated from within the business and partly by bank finance.” Dividends were paid amounting to £180,200 compared with £377,400 the previous year. The number of employees at the period end increased to 219 compared with 187 the year before.

Vaulkhard Group reports like-for-likes up 2.3%: Newcastle leisure firm Vaulkhard Group has reported like-for-like sales increased 2.3% for the year ending 31 March 2017 with associated like-for-like Ebitda up 4.6%. Turnover increased to £10,455,229 compared with £10,078,929 the previous year. Pre-tax profit dropped by more than 50% to £666,200 compared with £1,462,178 the year before following a year of “significant capital investment” of £938,000, according to accounts filed at Companies House. A report by the directors accompanying the accounts stated: “At the start of the year, the company completed an outdoor terrace area to one of its leading leasehold sites, investing just under £133,000. In addition, the group undertook a major refurbishment to another leasehold venue in Newcastle, with £369,000 spent during the year. The group chose to add another site to the Central Bean coffee shop brand, expanding into an area close to Sheffield. A total of £312,000 was invested in the coffee shop outlet and a neighbouring Blakes Tea Room. The group’s investment properties have also seen an increase by £700,000, as a result of successful rent reviews and a fair value adjustment due to market conditions. Property rental income reduced in the year from £479,000 to £449,000 due to there being some vacant properties in the year. Sales from the Gin Distillery to third parties increased from £226 to £23,405.” The number of employees at the period end increased to 279 from 262 the previous year.

Northcote Leisure Group reduces operating losses: Northcote Leisure Group has reported operating losses of £603,660 in the year to 31 March 2017, a reduction on operating losses of £815,980 the year before. Turnover rose to £10,994,630 from £10,207,807 the year before. Overall loses before tax were £730,944 compared with £924,135 in the year prior. The company, which includes Ribble Valley Inns, has retained loss of £7,481,676. Director Craig Bancroft said: “Our focus will be to increase sales further throughout the group. At Northcote, we aim to build further occupancy in the bedrooms and increase revenue from private dining and the Cook School. In Ribble Valley Inns the focus will be on bringing the underperforming units into line through investment in the recruitment and retention of staff in order to further reduce reliance on agency labour. In Cafe Northcote we aim to develop the outside space to increase covers, build trade from breakfast, afternoon and take-out trade.” The company reported its labour percentage was 40% for the year, “in line with expectations for a country house hotel”.

McDonald’ pay rise ‘not enough’ – further action may follow: A McDonald’s worker involved in strike action has claimed an above-inflation pay rise was “not enough” and workers are talking about further action. Staff aged over 25 will be paid between £8 and £10 per hour from Monday, 22 January. Younger staff will also receive boosts. Steve Day, who works at McDonald’s Cambridge restaurant, was one of the workers who walked out in historic strike action in September. He told The Independent: “It’s the biggest pay rise McDonald’s workers have had in ten years. We’re over the moon, but it’s not enough. Wages have been stagnant for far too long.” Day pointed out the London Living Wage was now £10.20 and McDonald’s chief executive Steve Easterbrook doubled his wage to $15.4m in 2017 – an hourly wage of roughly £5,700. “We know McDonald’s can afford to pay the living wage and what we’ve done with such a small amount of people going on strike shows what it’s possible to achieve,” Day said. “We’re already taking more action, talking to McDonald’s workers up and down the country. They have been coming into the union and getting involved.” The 40p per hour increase on McDonald’s current pay of £7.60 equates to a 5.3% pay improvement. It means wages at the company will keep slightly above the official UK minimum wage, which is set to increase from £7.50 to £7.83 in April. The pay rise will apply to workers at restaurants that McDonald’s owns. For franchised branches the new rates only act as a recommendation. A McDonald’s spokesman said the company regularly reviewed pay and the latest increase was not the largest in a decade. He added: “From kitchen to counter to front-of-house, our success would not be possible without the hard work of our people, so we will keep working hard to do right by them.” The news was hailed as a victory for workers at two McDonald’s restaurants in Cambridge and Crayford, in south London, who went on strike in September over pay and conditions. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn congratulated workers and the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, which represents many of those who took industrial action. But he also tweeted the fight for £10 per hour “was not over”. “We achieve more together than we can alone, which is why we should all join a trade union,” Corbyn said.

Manchester-based bar chain Oddworld wound up: Manchester-based bar chain Oddworld has been wound up and closed its three sites. The company has shut Odd Bar in Thomas Street as well as its sister venues The Blue Pig in High Street and Oddest Bar in Chorlton. Manchester Confidential reported the group had been wound up after “running up debts”. Oddworld’s London-born owner Cleo Farman – a former PA to Sir Richard Branson – launched her first bar in the Northern Quarter in 2005. Farman went on to open Odder in Oxford Road in 2006, Oddest in Chorlton in 2009, and the Blue Pig in 2012, by which time the group was turning over £2.5m. In 2014 she sold the Oxford Road branch to Whitbread-owned Costa Coffee. In May last year, the group put the portfolio on the market on a leasehold basis for a reported £825,000. At the time, Farman said: “I’ve achieved so much with these bars and I’m delighted to see how the Northern Quarter has developed since I first opened Odd. Knowing the bars have contributed to the development of this incredibly unique area is very special. It’s time I hand the reigns over to someone who can take the bars to the next stage of development, the sites have so much potential and lots more to give.”

Marston’s to relaunch former Charles Wells brewery under new Eagle brand next month: Marston’s is to relaunch the Bedford brewery it acquired from Charles Wells in 2017 as Eagle Brewery. In May, Marston’s acquired Charles Wells’ brewery and brand sales interests for a cash consideration of £55m plus working capital adjustments. The Bedford brewery is the home of ale brands Bombardier, Courage and McEwan’s. Marston’s said the site in Havelock Street had been “much changed” since the acquisition and it would reopen next month with new beers in the making and the addition of a taproom, shop and visitor centre, while it would also host brewery tours. The company said it chose the name Eagle Brewery because “eagles are Bedford’s historic champions” – the borough bears an eagle on its coat of arms. A company spokesman said: “At the Eagle Brewery we are proud to embrace different perspectives. It means while others may move cautiously, we soar fearlessly. Like the eagle that looks over our brewery, we take a different view. In February, our new-look brewery will open its doors to the public for the first time. Along with the unveiling of our new identity, you will also have the opportunity to visit our new brewery shop, taproom and visitor centre.” At the time of the acquisition, Marston’s chief executive Ralph Findlay said: “We are delighted to have agreed to acquire Charles Wells’ brewing and beer business. It is a high-quality brewing business offering us opportunities to extend our trading area in the south of England and Scotland and brings a range of well-known and popular brands into our portfolio.” The deal saw Charles Wells retain its pub estate, which the Bedford-based brewer and retailer told Propel it would continue to expand while building a smaller, 30,000-barrel capacity brewery in the “next two years”.

Cote closes Cheshire restaurant less than year after £1m opening: French brasserie Cote has closed its restaurant in Hale, Cheshire, with immediate effect, less than a year after opening it following a £1m investment. The site in Ashley Road opened on 25 January 2017, four months after the sudden closure of previous occupants Hale Grill. It had carried out an extensive three-month revamp of the 130-cover restaurant. More than 50 jobs were created by the opening but the site has now been boarded up, Altrincham Today reports. Cote, which is owned by private equity firm BC Partners, has more than 90 sites in the UK, with the nearest venue to Altrincham in Manchester city centre. At the end of October, the company opened a venue in Newcastle city centre for its first site in the north east following the £900,000 conversion of a former Barclays branch in Grainger Street and an adjacent site into a 94-cover restaurant set across two floors.

Work begins on £500,000 Star Pubs & Bars co-investment with Buff & Bear Saloons: Work has begun on a £500,000 co-investment in Newbury town centre between former Geronimo Inns managing director Ed Turner and Star Pubs & Bars. The Dolphin, in Bartholomew Street, has been closed since May 2017, but is scheduled to reopen in April. Turner now runs Buff & Bear Saloons, with his wife Buffy and their partner Shane O’Neill. The funds are being spent preserving and transforming the listed building to feature a retro public bar, saloon, snug, pantry, and dining room seating up to 40. The garden will also seat up to 50, parking will be included and up to 20 jobs will be created when the pub reopens. Turner said: “We’ve long wanted to open in Newbury as we live close by and The Dolphin is perfect for our style of a very homely pub that is all about having a great time, whether eating, drinking, staying over or holding an event.” The pub will also have five bedrooms, with room number one having its own record player and vinyl collection. Passers-by can also glance at the glass-fronted cellar, showing the latest state-of-the-art SmartDispense cellar system, which showcases the skills of a cellar manager.

Bolton-based The Chinese Buffet shuts Halifax restaurant but vows to continue ‘managed expansion’: Bolton-based The Chinese Buffet has shut its 250-cover restaurant in Halifax, Yorkshire, although the founder has vowed the company will continue its “managed expansion”. The venue in Broad Street has closed suddenly after the company said it had fought a “losing battle” to make it commercially viable. The move follows the closure of the chain’s Bradford outlet two years ago. However, The Chinese Buffet is set to launch a venue in Liverpool next month and has plans for another at an undisclosed location before the end of the year. The Chinese Buffet managing director Paulo Hu told the West Yorkshire News: “We have been fighting to keep it open for the last year or so. We invested about £100,000 a year ago in the restaurant to open up the kitchen and provide more food but it was not going as expected.” The restaurant’s 20 members of staff are being offered jobs at the company’s nine remaining restaurants – in Huddersfield, Wakefield, Bolton, Blackpool, Bury, Darlington, St Helens, Wigan and Wrexham. Hu blamed the closure of the Halifax restaurant on a combination of factors, including the economic climate and running costs. He said: “We have been fighting a losing battle in this location. It is a very expensive site. It’s a very big branch on the ground floor. Our other restaurants tend to be first or second floor where the rents are cheaper. Because Huddersfield is quite close we hope we can accommodate our Halifax customers there.”

Britvic appoints new commercial operations director: Britvic has appointed John Campbell as its new commercial operations director. Campbell succeeds Nigel Paine who has taken on the role of senior vice-president for Britvic North America. Campbell joined Britvic and the business’ British executive team in October 2013 as finance director. In his new role, Campbell will report to Great Britain managing director Paul Graham and will be responsible for growing the soft drinks category. Graham said: “As an existing member of the Great Britain executive team, with an exceptional understanding of our commercial business, John has played a central role in growing our business year-on-year on our journey to delivering transformational growth into the soft drinks category.” Campbell added: “This is a very exciting time for soft drinks, with many new opportunities on the horizon. I’m delighted to be stepping into this new role at such a pivotal moment for the category.”

Real Burger Co down to single site after shutting Grantham restaurant: The Real Burger Co is back to a single site after closing its restaurant in Grantham, Lincolnshire. The company was launched by Martyn Kirby and Leanne Hull in Newark in 2014. It opened the Grantham town centre venue in January last year in a former Greenwoods clothing store in High Street. About 25 full and part-time jobs will be lost by the closure. The Newark venue will remain open. Kirby told the Grantham Journal: “With much sadness we are announcing The Real Burger Co Grantham is now closed. We experienced tremendous ups and downs through the year and in the end we could not weather through the slow periods. As a restaurant we did everything we could to ensure the success of The Real Burger Co Grantham, from food and beverage to service and delivery.” At the time of launch, Hull said: “Grantham does not have anything like the Real Burger Co and this was a good opportunity we didn’t want to turn down.”

Starbucks to trial 5p charge on paper cups: Starbucks is going to start charging customers 5p for ordering their teas and coffee in a paper cup. The company will be trialling the scheme in its London cafes in a bid to get more people to use reusable ones. Starbucks will be testing the waters in 25 coffee shops in the capital. Starting in February and lasting three months, customers who use the shops involved in the trials will be charged an extra 5p for their drink if it’s in a paper cup. The coffee chain said it wants to see if the additional charge on paper cups will encourage people to use reusable ones. Starbucks sells its own reusable cups for £1. They cut the price in half to 50p during a trial in 2016. “We found that this did not move the needle in the way we thought it might,” Starbucks said in the statement. “We will investigate the impact of a 5p charge on a paper cup, coupled with prominent marketing of reusable cups, on customer behaviour.” Starbucks is hoping the charge might have the same effect as the ban on free plastic bags in supermarkets. Since a 5p charge was adopted by England back in 2014 there has been a drop of 83% in the amount of plastic bags used.

Manchester nightclub Venus closing after almost two decades of operation: Manchester nightclub Venus has announced its closure after nearly 20 years of operation. Established in 1999 as Club V before moving to Maybrook House on Blackfriars Street in 2010, the club was at the heart of the city’s house music scene for almost two decades. In a statement posted on Twitter, management said changes to the city’s nightlife, including later opening hours for bars, had hit the club hard. It said: “It’s with a heavy heart we bring you news with [sic] thought we would never announce for many more years. Venus has been in the Manchester clubbing scene for nearly 20 years and New Year’s Eve 2017 was to be our last event. Since our start in 1999 the clubbing industry has changed massively, huge improvements to the Manchester infrastructure and nightlife has slowly seen the decline of the nightclub industry we all know and have loved very fondly.” The growth of Manchester’s bar scene since 2010 has had “a very positive effect on the city”, the management said, but had “directly impacted” on its business. It added: “Roll back to years 2007 to 2010, most bars in Manchester closed around 11pm and gave us a fantastic foothold within the night-time economy.”

Leeds-based Italian restaurant operators launch Sicilian street food site: The team behind Culto Italian Kitchen in Leeds has launched a restaurant offering Sicilian street food. Poco, which means “little” in Italian, has opened in Kirkstall Road offering pasta to go, pizza served by the slice, and giant arancini risotto balls. Director Elvi Drizi told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “The site was affected by the floods in 2015. We had to completely rebuild the interior three times so it would look as we imagined – cosy, stylish, airy and light. We used all kinds of natural materials such as wood, stone and marble, and lots of plants typical of Sicily.”