Ralph Findlay – ‘I can’t remember a time when I’ve seen more opportunities presented’: Marston’s chief executive Ralph Findlay has told Propel a number of factors have led to a record number of businesses being put on the market. Factors that have prompted vendors to hoist “for sale” signs include uncertainty surrounding Brexit and an unprecedented rise in costs for operators. “I can’t recall a period where I’ve see more opportunities presented to us,” he said. Marston’s has previously announced it is taking a prudent approach to capital plans in 2019, with a £30m net capex reduction. It still has plans to open ten pubs, restaurants and bars and five lodges. Findlay said this year had been an “extraordinary one”, with the Beast From The East wiping £3m from its profits, the collapse of its major meat supplier and a severe Co2 shortage among the challenging events it faced. After Wednesday’s full-year results, Peel Hunt leisure analyst Douglas Jack said: “We are holding our forecasts. These expect circa 1% like-for-like sales and slight margin reduction in D&P and Taverns’ combined managed pubs, with management expecting to mitigate most cost increases. We estimate the company’s plans to maintain dividends and reduce leverage equate to 15% annual return on equity value (8% dividend; 7% deleveraging) if 2% annual Ebitda growth can be sustained. The net asset value is £1.51 a share.”
NewRiver – ‘we hope to own between 1,000 and 2,000 pubs over time’: Real estate investment trust NewRiver, which has become the UK’s seventh-largest owner of tenanted pubs, believes it can build its current estate of 620 pubs to between 1,000 and 2,000 in the next three to five years. Mark Davies, chief financial officer of NewRiver REIT and executive chairman of Hawthorn Leisure, told Propel the company expected to acquire circa 80 more sites in clusters by March 2019. He said: “We think community, wet-led pubs are a great asset class in which to invest capital. We have a 98% occupancy level and, since acquiring our first pubs from Marston’s in 2013, we have found pub occupancy remarkably consistent and stable. We are receiving a lot of approaches from private equity and others asking for our help in unlocking opportunities in the sector. We’ve had great experience in the sector and see community pubs as an asset class where we want to invest more capital. We are investing more than £500,000 a month in our pub assets and, where we invest in pubs, we generate really good returns. We feel this is a sector that is under-invested and, arguably, under-managed.” NewRiver has developed surplus land at some of its community pubs into convenience stores. However, Davies said NewRiver invested in the co-located community pub to create a more sustainable future.
SSP Group to open first ever airside M&S Food to Go, lands £70m Brazil contract: SSP Group, the operator of food and beverage outlets in travel locations worldwide, will open the UK’s first airside M&S Food to Go, at Birmingham airport. M&S Food to Go will offer a broad selection of all-day food and drinks including wraps, freshly made baguettes, sushi, salad, confectionery, smoothies, beer and wine. Hot food such as bacon rolls and soup will also be available, while customers will be able to enjoy M&S coffee and other hot drinks from specially trained baristas. M&S Food to Go will welcome it first customers in early 2019 at Birmingham airport, which serves 13 million passengers a year. Kate Swann, chief executive of SSP Group, said: “We are extremely excited to be opening the first ever airside M&S. Bringing together M&S’ food innovation and SSP’s operational expertise, the nw store has been designed for airport customers. We’ve worked closely with the development team at M&S to create an offering that will appeal to people flying through Birmingham airport looking for quick meals and snacks to eat in or take on their flight. We hope this will be the first of many more.” Meanwhile, SSP will enter the South American travel market for the first time after securing contracts worth circa £70m over nine years with two of Brazil’s main international airports. A joint venture between SSP and Duty Free Americas will see a mix of international brands launched at São Paulo’s and Rio de Janeiro’s international airports, which welcome circa 40 million and 16 million passengers a year respectively. The brands in the line-up include coffee shop Ritazza, contemporary restaurant Factory Bar & Kitchen, bakery brand Upper Crust, Jamie’s Deli from chef Jamie Oliver, Italian brand Barzetti, Mexican-themed concept Mi Casa Burritos, hotdog brand Monty’s Dogs & Cones, sports bar O’Learys and healthy eating brand Camden Food Co. The outlets will launch in the spring.
Black Sheep Brewery shareholder hits out at company management: A shareholder of Black Sheep Brewery in North Yorkshire has launched a campaign to “build a better Black Sheep Brewery” after expressing his disappointment about the company’s “mismanagement”. David Nabarro, a Black Sheep Brewery shareholder and City of London corporate financier, helped the brewery’s founder, Paul Theakston, raise the money to start the business 27 years ago. Nabarro said: “That was one of my earliest transactions as an independent corporate financier so I have always had a soft spot for Black Sheep and its prize-winning beers and a long-term interest in our company’s development and success.” According to the most recent accounts published at Companies House, Black Sheep Brewery recorded a turnover of £18.5m in the 12 months to 31 March 2018, up from £17.9m the year before. It reported pre-tax profits of £1.2m, up from pre-tax losses of £561,810 in the previous year. Yet Nabarro has expressed disappointment over “mismanagement” of the company and is waging a campaign to start a shareholder revolt. In a letter to shareholders, he wrote: “Time waits for no man and I believe the Theakston family continues to abuse our shareholders’ trust. I therefore suggest the time has come to send a clear message to the board and the executive management team that we the shareholders are collectively not just extremely disappointed but also angry at their persistent failure to manage the affairs of our company properly. The most recent report and accounts to 31 March 2018 have been accompanied by an immediate 7.5% fall in Black Sheep’s notional share price to £1.85, and I need hardly remind you that over the last five years under the Theakston family’s stewardship our company has paid no dividends. In fact, compared with five years ago annual revenues, of which circa 39.94% were represented by beer duty, have actually declined by 1.04%.” A Black Sheep Brewery spokesman said: “Every day we all dedicate our efforts to supplying a growing number of outlets and stores throughout the UK. The company is supported by hundreds of shareholders from the local community and the comments of one shareholder activist, who has an agenda to destabilise the management of the business, should not distract us from pursuing our strategy. We are in the final stages of plans to open a new packaging facility and in the process of expanding further into outlets we will own and operate. Our dynamic growth plan was endorsed by the overwhelming majority of shareholders at the recent AGM held only a few weeks ago. At that meeting, Mr Nabarro didn’t take the opportunity to ask questions, which all shareholders are entitled to do.”
Tim Martin to embark on 100-pub hard Brexit tour: JD Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin intends to visit more than 100 of the company’s pubs across the UK in the next two months to speak to customers and local press about the huge economic advantages of leaving the EU on 29 March 2019 without a deal and adopting the free-trade approach of countries such as New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Singapore and Israel. These advantages would be lost, he argues, if the government signed up for a deal with the EU that kept the UK tied to the protectionist EU customs union. Martin said: “Now the details of the appalling deal negotiated by the Downing Street kitchen cabinet have become clear, it is certain the UK would be financially far better off by choosing ‘no deal’. The hard mathematics demonstrate beyond doubt that ‘no deal’ leaves the public and UK better off on day one after Brexit. The UK would immediately gain by non-payment of the proposed £39bn, for which lawyers have repeatedly confirmed there is no legal liability. ‘No deal’ also allows parliament, on 29 March 2019, to slash import taxes (tariffs) on more than 12,000 non-EU products, including oranges, rice, coffee, wine and children’s clothes. Ending these tariffs would immediately reduce shop prices for UK consumers. There is no loss of income to the government from slashing these tariffs since the proceeds are currently remitted to Brussels. Most importantly, ‘no deal’ allows the UK to regain control of historic fishing grounds in which 60% of fish today are landed by EU boats. Also, the UK would be more democratic. Democracy and free trade provide economic steroids for the future. “In reality, Theresa May’s deal is a mechanism for remaining trapped in an undemocratic and financially inefficient system.”
Patisserie Valerie probe begins: The accountancy watchdog has launched an investigation into Grant Thornton’s audit of Birmingham-headquartered Patisserie Valerie and its former finance director Chris Marsh. The Financial Reporting Council (FRC) said the probe would examine audits of parent company Patisserie Holdings for the years ending 30 September 2015, 2016 and 2017. The organisation is also looking into the preparation and signing off of the parent company’s financial statements and other financial information by Marsh, a member of the ICAEW, who left Patisserie Holdings last month .The investigations are to be carried out under the Audit Enforcement Procedure. The move comes after the listed company was forced to suspend trading of its shares after it discovered a £40m “black hole” in its finances. Emergency funding was agreed by the board and its shareholders, while Marsh stepped down at the end of October.
Games bar concept Kongs opens third site, in Birmingham: Bristol-based games bar concept Kongs has opened its third site, in Birmingham. The venue has launched on the corner of Swallow Street and Hill Street at a site formerly occupied by Chameleon bar. Kongs offers craft beer, burgers, ping pong and retro arcade games played via tokens bought at the bar. Bristol-based Burger Theory is running the kitchen with the opening creating more than 30 jobs. The venue features a stripped-back “urban” look with a high ceiling and parquet floor. Kongs operations director Toby Stringer told the Birmingham Mail: “Coming here is all about chilling out and having lots of space. We are not about getting people ‘smashed’ and offering lots of deals. You can dress how you want – we look for personality, not what’s on your feet. We are not a standard bar, we’re more for young professionals aged 20 to 40 or 50. Girls also enjoy beer now and playing games and our music policy is fantastic for both sexes. I love craft beer, table tennis and music but food wasn’t my area of expertise, so why not get people in who are good at that?” Toby Stringer and Max Pioli founded Kongs in King Street, Bristol, in 2014. They started expansion with a second site, in Cardiff, in November 2016.
Tom Kitchin opens Southside Scran in Edinburgh: Kitchin Group, led by Michelin-starred chef Tom Kitchin, has opened its latest restaurant, Southside Scran, in Edinburgh. Located in the city’s Bruntsfield district, the bistro features an open rotisserie as the centrepiece with a menu incorporating the best of Scottish produce with hints of Kitchin’s passion for French cuisine. It is the first time Kitchin Group has brought the “from nature to plate” philosophy to the south side of the city following The Kitchin in Leith, Castle Terrace by Edinburgh Castle, and The Scran & Scallie in Stockbridge. The interiors incorporate shades of dark green and rust-coloured pink, with banquette seating, rustic wood floors and classic floor tiles. The drinks list includes wine and seasonal cocktails. Kitchin said: “Bruntsfield is charming and feels like the right place for us to create a neighbourhood restaurant where people can enjoy a meal with family and friends. The open rotisserie has long been a dream of ours and we can’t wait to showcase new dishes and ways of cooking with Scotland’s incredible produce.”
ChicKing to make UK regional debut with Wednesbury launch, 140th venue worldwide: Dubai-headquartered fast chicken chain ChicKing is to make its UK regional debut by opening a restaurant in Wednesbury, West Midlands. ChicKing opened its debut UK sites in west London last year, in Acton and Marylebone, and operates 140 branches worldwide. The company has rented a 771 square foot unit on a seven-year lease at a site in Union Street formerly occupied by Acorns Children’s Hospice. James Mattin, managing partner at Bond Wolfe, which brokered the deal, told The Business Desk: “It is always a pleasure to help growing companies with their property needs and we were delighted to help find the right place for ChicKing’s new franchise. The unit is on the main pedestrian high street in the heart of Wednesbury town centre, which should result in plenty of footfall. We’re especially pleased this development will create several jobs in the area and we look forward to helping ChicKing expand elsewhere in the region.”
WeFiFo acquires London-focused supper club FeedUp: Supper club WeFiFo has acquired rival platform FeedUp. WeFiFo, which is running a £400,000 fund-raise on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube to recruit UK hosts and expand internationally, will host a FeedUp landing page on its website. FeedUp has provided more than 10,000 meals to London’s needy via its charity partners. WeFiFo chief executive Seni Glaister said: “Acquiring FeedUp is a huge milestone in our journey. We’re proud of the community we’ve built and the career opportunities we offer our hosts. When I met FeedUp founder Austin it was clear we shared a vision and working together would allow WeFiFo to achieve our ambition of becoming the ‘go to’ destination for authentic food experiences.” WeFiFo is offering 12.50% equity on Crowdcube in return for investment, giving a pre-money valuation of £2.8m. So far, 35 investors have pledged £165,780 with 21 days remaining. The company raised £350,000 in angel investment in 2016 to launch and roll out its platform nationwide, while John Lewis Partnership (JLP) invested £100,000 in the company last year following its success in JLAB – JLP’s annual accelerator programme. WeFiFo enables home cooks, supper club hosts and professional chefs to “share their food with paying guests”.
Tom Sellers to head kitchen at new Soho members’ club: Michelin-starred chef Tom Sellers is to head the kitchen at a members’ club launching in Soho. The Court will open in Kingly Street in February at the former site of iconic music club Bag O’Nails. Alongside Sellers, Ryan Chetiyawardana, aka award-winning mixologist Mr Lyan, will compile the drinks list and former Mahiki general manager Richard Haddon will run front of house. Annual membership of The Court will start from £600 per year, Hot Dinners reports. Sellers reopened Michelin-starred Restaurant Story in May following a five-week refurbishment – the first since its launch in 2013. Last year Chetiyawardana opened restaurant Cub with Doug McMaster, co-founder of Brighton’s zero-waste restaurant Silo, above his basement bar Super Lyan in Hoxton Street.
Headstart Group opens fifth site: Hull-based The Headstart Group has opened its fifth site – Steak\1884 – in Humber Street following the relocation of its Barrow Boys concept. Beef is presented on a trolley for diners to select their preferred cut and thickness before it is weighed and cooked. The venue also offers seafood and specials. Steak\1884 completes a reshuffle of the group’s businesses, which began in June with the closure of Dock Street Kitchen. 1884 Marina Bar opened at the premises in August and was joined by Barrow Boys last month. Italian restaurant Cucina 1884 will open in Hessle this month, while 1884 Wine and Tapas Bar is at Hull Marina. Headstart Group director Jane Cook told BDaily: “The other restaurants in the 1884 group set new standards when they opened and we have done the same. We are in a prime location and had a lot of people watching through the windows looking forward to our opening. We’ve already got a lot of reservations from people who want to try something new.”
Arora Hotels buys Buckinghamshire golf club: A Buckinghamshire golf club featuring an 18-hole championship course designed by former Ryder Cup captain John Jacobs has been acquired by one of the UK’s largest private hotel owner-operators. Arora Hotels has acquired The Buckinghamshire Golf Club in a move that will allow the hotel group to expand into the world of luxury sporting and leisure venues. The business will take over management of the Denham-based golf course and has pledged to use its hospitality experience to reinvigorate the club, providing a new and enhanced experience for members. Sanjay Arora, director of the Arora Group, said: “We are delighted to announce the addition of The Buckinghamshire Golf Club to Arora Hotels’ portfolio of luxury properties. It is a stunning golf course with fantastic potential for future development and, as a keen golfer myself, I will take great pleasure and pride in having this as part of our portfolio.”
Michelin-starred chef Rohit Ghai opens first solo restaurant, in Chelsea:Rohit Ghai, former executive chef of Michelin-starred Indian restaurant Jamavar, has launched his first solo restaurant, in Chelsea. Kutir, which means “hut” in Sanskrit, is a joint venture with Abhi Sangwan and has opened in Lincoln Street offering a “punchy, authentic and traditional menu” inspired by the feasting style of royal hunting expeditions. Kutir offers a six-course tasting menu and an a la carte version with an emphasis on game and seafood. Ghai said: “Kutir is inspired by my and Abhi’s early careers in luxury Indian heritage hotels within wildlife sanctuaries across India. We both fell in love with the lush green landscape and were fascinated by the regional, seasonal cuisine. I have been dreaming about serving this menu and have been refining these dishes for a long time.” Ghai was also executive chef at Bombay Bustle and worked at two other Michelin-starred Indian restaurants in London – Gymkhana and Trishna.
Tennent’s launches multimillion-pound visitors’ centre: C&C Group brand Tennent’s has launched a visitors’ centre at its Wellpark Brewery in Glasgow following a multimillion-pound investment. The Tennent’s Story traces the history of Scotland’s oldest brewery, from the 1500s to present day. Building on an existing tour and tasting experience, the experience also covers the production and provenance of Tennent’s Lager and offers visitors a taste of brewery-fresh tank beer. Alan McGarrie, group brand director for Tennent’s Lager, said: “It has been an incredible transformation, watching the space develop into a truly immersive experience that showcases the brewery, the beer and the brand. The Tennent’s Story is going to take people behind the scenes like never before.”
 
Caprice Holdings opens Brasserie of Light in Selfridges: Brasserie of Light, a new restaurant and bar from Caprice Holdings, has opened as part of the final chapter of Selfridges’ £300m investment in its London store. The brasserie and bar offers a mix of British and international dishes throughout the day in an art deco setting. The 130-cover venue also offers a private dining room with space for 16 guests seated and 30 standing, while the restaurant’s centrepiece is Damien Hirst’s crystal-encrusted statue Pegasus. Caprice Holdings owner Richard Caring said: “When you think of the capital city of the world you think of London. When you think of London you think of Selfridges. In the future when you think of London restaurants, I hope you will think of Brasserie of Light.” Last month, Caprice Holdings opened Harry’s Bar at the St Christopher’s Place development in James Street, central London. The 150-cover venue is a sister site to Harry’s Dolce Vita.
Mastcraft launches Indian street food concept in Soho: London-based Mastcraft Hotels has launched an Indian street food concept at its Courthouse Hotel in Great Marlborough Street, Soho. The 50-cover restaurant, Soho Wala, has its own entrance and features interiors that resemble an Indian market. The menu includes mirchi matchstick chicken with fresh green chilli, lime and root ginger; and assam tea brulee with vanilla ice cream and malai crème alongside cocktails such as the Chai White Russian, reports Hot Dinners. Culinary development director Preet Tandi has developed the concept. He joined Mastcraft Hotels in August and is designing further multi-cuisine fine dining and casual dining concepts for the group. Tandi was previously at Edwardian Hotels, where he helped develop its Kitchen concepts, while he has also worked at restaurants such as Nobu London and Dinner by Heston