No decision made on future of Brains management team following Marston’s pub operation deal: No decision has been made on the future of the management team at Welsh brewer and retailer SA Brain following the operation of its pubs being taken over by Marston’s, Propel has learned. The deal sees Marston’s operate 141 freehold pubs under the Brains brand on a leasehold basis, with effect from February, with rent chargeable from 1 April. In addition, Marston’s will operate the remaining 15 short-leasehold sites on a management contract basis for a period of two years. The circa 1,300 people currently employed in the pub business will transfer across to Marston’s and an initial incremental central overhead of up to £2m will be required to operate the additional pubs. The deal has led to questions over the future of Brains chief executive Alistair Darby, who joined the business in July 2018, and the rest of the management team. In response, a Brains spokesman told Propel: “The job today is to communicate the news with the pub teams and the business. There is no decision on the management team at this stage.” Peel Hunt leisure analyst Douglas Jack has described the deal as “another excellent transaction” by Marston’s. Issuing a ‘Buy’ note on the shares with a target price of 105p, Jack said: “For no consideration, Marston’s is to operate 156 Brains freehold pubs. Before covid-19, their outlet Ebitda was £14m. As a leaseholder, Marston’s will pay Brains £5.5m rent per annum to operate these sites. Reflecting this and circa £2m of incremental overheads, we are upgrading our 2022E IAS17 Ebitda forecast by £6m and 2023E by £8m (after £2m of expected synergies). As a consequence, we are raising our target price from 95p to 105p.” Campaign for Real Ale national chairman Nik Antona said of the deal: “While we still need to see the detail, at first glance it appears a positive move. Restrictions over the past year due to covid-19 have put a huge pressure on the hospitality industry. It’s clear there has not been enough support to protect even a well-established business such as Brains – never mind smaller pubs, breweries and cider producers across Wales. This could be the first of many hospitality businesses forced to take drastic action to survive. The UK and Welsh governments must work together to provide the industry with further financial support now – or we anticipate there will be even more job losses and closures.” Brain’s brewery will remain an independent business. Brains, which has been owned by the same family since it was founded in 1882, had put itself up for sale earlier this year after grappling with a slowdown in trading and rising costs.
Joseph Holt chairman – ‘our strong freehold base has been fundamental to our ability to survive the toughest of times’: Richard Lee, chairman of north west brewer and retailer Joseph Holt, has said having a strong freehold property base has been “fundamental to our ability to survive the toughest of times”. The company, which operates about 130 pubs, said it was also in final discussions with its bank to provide a further £5m facility option “to secure sufficient additional headroom in the event the current emergency continues for an extended period”. The group stressed there was “no immediate requirement for additional finance” after its £22m revolving credit facility was renewed for five years in December 2019 and there was also a £3m overdraft facility. The company, which agreed the suspension of banking covenants when pubs and restaurants were shut in March, said it was planning further talks with its bankers in the first quarter of next year, over the new covenant tests earmarked to be applied from June “depending on the severity of trading restrictions at that time”. While the group has protected its liquidity position and accessed government support schemes, due to the ongoing restrictions the company said “it would not be prudent” to make a dividend payment for the year ending 31 December 2019. Lee said: “In 2019, the company celebrated 170 years of brewing history. Never in all that time has the company had to shut all its pubs, even in the face of two world wars, a general strike, Spanish flu, storms, floods and other natural disasters. Until now. But we have weathered all of these and the current pandemic will be no exception. Having a strong freehold property base is fundamental to our ability to survive the toughest of times. With the sixth generation of the family now firmly established in the business, the dedication of a truly talented workforce, and the loyal support of our customers and, importantly, our shareholders, we can look forward to the future with determined confidence.” Joseph Holt provided the update as it reported turnover increased 2.5% to £70.5m for the year ending 31 December 2019, compared with £68.7m the year before. Operating profit was marginally down at £4m, compared with £4.1m the previous year, while pre-tax profit rose 1.4% to £4.3m, compared with £4.2m the year before. During the year it spent £5.3m on acquisitions and major developments. In February, it acquired The Cat & Lion in the village of Stretton in Cheshire from brewer and retailer Greene King. Lee said the development of the pub had been delayed as a result of the pandemic. Other notable developments include the launch of “Holts at Home” in June, which now gives the family-owned business the opportunity to sell its entire bottle range, gifts and ale and lager in mini cask and kegs to the public.
Leon chief commercial officer and Grocery MD steps down to join Waitrose:Charlotte Di Cello has stepped down as chief commercial officer of natural fast food brand Leon and managing director of its grocery arm, to join Waitrose, as its new trading director and online director. Di Cello will join Waitrose on 18 January after 18 months with Leon. Di Cello previously spent more than 12 years at Sainsbury’s, including stints as head of food – Asia, and most recently category manager for canned and packaged. She succeeds Rupert Thomas, the current Waitrose commercial trading director, who is leaving the partnership at the end of the year after 17 years. Propel also understands Yvonne Small has stepped down as commercial design director at Leon to join Marks & Spencer as its new head of commercial – hospitality. Small, who joined Leon last year, previously had stints at EAT and Pret. Last week, creditors of Leon approved a plan to restructure the firm’s finances through a company voluntary arrangement (CVA), preserving 670 jobs. A total of 90% of creditors approved proposals put forward by business advisory firm Quantuma on behalf of Leon. The CVA is focused upon ensuring the business can deal with ongoing uncertainties created by the pandemic, and provide a platform to return to its previous positive trajectory, with creditors accepting a proposal aligned to turnover-based rents.
Flight Club operator Red Engine secures £11m to support the business through pandemic as revenue jumps 125% in 2019: Red Engine, which is behind Flight Club Darts and Electric Shuffle, has secured almost £11m to support the business through the coronavirus pandemic as it reported revenue jumped 125% in 2019. The funding has come in the form of a £5.85m convertible loan note from existing shareholders and £5m through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme via banking partner Santander. Despite the group’s seven UK sites being shut during the first lockdown from March the business generated positive Ebitda for the 52-week period ended June 2020. In 2021, the company aims to open Flight Club in Leeds and has secured a second site for its Electric Shuffle concept, in London Bridge, as well as opening sites in Australia with a recently signed new franchise partner. There are also “a number of other exciting opportunities in the pipeline”. The company said it was hopeful by the summer trading will “look a little closer to normal, and will ensure our teams are supported throughout all of these periods”. All Flight Club venues opened for trade at the beginning of August this year and Electric Shuffle in early September but the second lockdown and various tier restrictions means there has been, and will continue to be, “a significant impact on historical and future trading”. All venues are currently shut as they are in tier three or four areas. The company stated: “The directors believe revenue when the venues are trading, albeit below normal levels, along with the new cash reserves, will continue to fund the group’s growth ambition through FY2021 and beyond.” The company provided the update as it reported revenue jumped 125% to £22.4m for the year ending 29 December 2019, compared with £10m the previous year. It made a pre-tax profit of £1m versus a loss of £1.3m the year before. Gross margin improved to 54.9% from 51.6% the year before. The company opened three UK venues during the period – Flight Club sites in Birmingham in July and Islington in November as well as the inaugural Electric Shuffle in Canary Wharf, which also launched in November. All three “traded strongly from day one”. The company’s second international venue operated under licence with Social Entertainment Ventures – Flight Club Boston – opened in December and was “very well received”.
Loungers secures ex-PizzaExpress site in Devizes: Cafe-bar operator Loungers has further strengthened its 2021 site pipeline, after securing the former PizzaExpress site in Devizes, Wiltshire. PizzaExpress confirmed, while not included in their announced closure of 73 sites in September, its Devizes branch will close. Loungers, which has already secured the ex-PizzaExpress site in St Ives, Cornwall, for an opening next year, plans to reopen the site in the Wiltshire town, next spring. Tom Trenchard, Loungers property director, told the Gazette & Herald: “We are delighted to be bringing our all-day offer to Devizes. The Lounge will be called Condado Lounge.” Earlier this month, Nick Collins, chief executive of Loungers, told Propel the property market has never been better for opportunities to open higher revenue and Ebitda sites. He said the pipeline for next year looked “very strong” as the Lounges and Cosy Club operator looks towards growing the 170-strong portfolio to 300 sites. In its presentation document, the company said it has exchanged on 13 sites, 12 are at heads of term stage, 19 are in negotiation and 21 are under consideration.
Cubitt House reports like-for-like and turnover boost before pandemic hit: London gastro-pub operator Cubitt House, whose sites include The Alfred Tennyson and Thomas Cubitt, has reported a boost in like-for-like sales and turnover before the pandemic hit. The company said it has made use of the government support available during the crisis and continues to access the “flexible furlough” scheme to retain teams while trade builds back up in the capital. Cubitt House has also operated takeaway services. It stated: “The company has focused on cash conservation, and therefore in turn, capital expenditure on any non-essential work has been put on hold in the short-term future. In addition, during the lockdown periods the company has responded dynamically, resulting in a low level of cash burn.” Cubitt House provided the update as it reported like-for-like sales were up 2.6% for the year ending 31 December 2019. Turnover rose 3.9% to 12.5m, compared with £12m the previous year as the company benefited from the opening of the Beau Brummel in St James’s Market. Ebitda was down to £805,000 from £909,000 the year before. Underlying Ebitda, excluding the new opening, increased 5%. The company reported pre-tax losses narrowed slightly to £250,000 from £269,000 the previous year.
MeatLiquor closes Covent Garden and Oxford Street sites ‘until further notice’:Scott Collins-led concept MeatLiquor has closed its Covent Garden and Oxford Street sites in London “until further notice”. Collins told Propel the decision was down to non-essential shops being forced to close as a result of tier four restrictions in the capital, no one working in offices, hotels being shut and negligible residences around. The company’s other seven London sites are continuing to offer delivery and takeaway as is its Leeds branch, which is under tier three restrictions. The Brighton restaurant can stay open for dine-in until Boxing Day when the city moves from tier two to tier four restrictions.
Papa John’s to offer $2.5m in bonuses to 14,000 US staff: Papa John’s will offer year-end bonuses, totalling about $2.5m, to about 14,000 US front-line team members in the company’s corporate restaurants and supply chain. The company noted, earlier in the year amid the covid-19 pandemic, It had provided targeted bonuses, incentives and crisis pay for some corporate restaurant and supply chain team members and expanded health, wellness, paid time-off and college tuition benefits. Chief executive Rob Lynch said: “Never has Papa John’s growth and success depended on our team members’ hard work, steadfast dedication and commitment to safety as much as this year.” In addition to mid and end-of-year bonuses and expanded benefits like free virtual doctor visits for corporate employees, this year Papa John’s corporate and franchised restaurants have also hired more than 30,000 additional staff.
Woking-based coffee shop operator opens restaurant in former Bill’s premises:Woking-based coffee shop operator Carl Whiting-Gorley has opened a restaurant in the Surrey town. Whiting-Gorley, who already operates Black and White Coffee House, has launched Black and Irons Bar and Grill in the former Bill’s premises in Commercial Way. The new venue is currently offering takeaway due to the town being under tier four restrictions. However, once dine-in is allowed it will have capacity for about 120 diners. Black and Irons Bar and Grill offers British-style food “with a twist”, with charcoal ovens used to produce “incredible” flavours. Whiting-Gorley told Surrey Live it was always a dream to open a restaurant in his home town and the pandemic has actually led to it happening sooner than originally planned, with the location “too good to miss”.
Whitbread to strengthen Premier Inn presence in Manchester city centre:Whitbread is to open a new 158-bedroom Premier Inn in Manchester city centre in February. The seven-storey hotel is being built on top of a 1,000-space car park at Circle Square. The hotel and car park are part of the wider £750m Circle Square masterplan, a joint venture between Bruntwood SciTech and Vita Group to create a city neighbourhood with more than 1,700 homes, 1.2 million square foot of workspace and more than 100,000 square foot of retail and leisure space as well as a new city park, Symphony Park. Richard Aldread, head of construction in the UK regions and Ireland for Premier Inn, said: “The new Princes Street Premier Inn strengthens our presence in Manchester city centre and brings our latest format hotel to the extremely popular Oxford Road/Deansgate micro-market.” It will be Premier Inn’s four hotel in the city centre.
Operator Vida announces Valentine’s Day opening for fine dining restaurant at Winslade Park: Vida, co-founded by Joe Hammond and Tom Johnson, has announced a date for the opening of its fine dining restaurant and bar at grade II-listed Winslade Park. Hammond, formerly of Woodbury Park Hotel, Golf & Country Club, and Johnson, an ex-England and Exeter Chiefs rugby union professional player, will open the site on 14 February although there will be a soft launch earlier in the month. The ambitious plans for Winslade Park in Clyst St Mary, near Exeter, include a boutique health club, subterranean day spa, on-site childcare facilities, food festivals and open-air concerts. The redevelopment of the site will also include homes and apartments from Burrington Estates New Homes, plus offices and lifestyle facilities. The ground floor is home to Tom Johnson’s personal coaching studio, Number 6, and the new restaurant, lounge and bar is located on the first floor. The dining room features decorative high ceilings with original period features. Matt Mason, formerly of gastro-pub Jack in the Green, where he spent 28 years, has been appointed head chef. Hammond said: “Winslade Park will be home to a boutique health club, subterranean day spa, onsite childcare facilities, and first class catering. The 85-acre site lends itself perfectly to hosting well-being and food festivals and open air music concerts. We’re also thrilled to be providing wedding receptions. We’re really looking forward to revealing our events plan in 2021, but for now, we’re keeping that under wraps.”
Conservatory-style extension adds covers to fine dining restaurant unable to serve takeaways and deliveries: Fine dining restaurant Fletcher’s has built a huge extension to fit more customers in because it is unable to offer takeaways and deliveries. Father and son proprietors Martin and Fletcher Andrews have added a conservatory-style extension to the front of the Plymouth city centre site and have also added a new bar. The extra space has allowed Fletcher’s to add 16 socially distanced covers and bring in a baby grand piano. Martin said: “We took advantage of lockdown and built much of it ourselves. We were closed for all the first lockdown and because we had the renovations going on did not open until October. We were then closed again for the second lockdown. It’s been hard. But we have built a new bar and extension at the front.” He added the idea of putting an extension on the front of the building had been around for a while but the pandemic accelerated plans, especially as it had to reduce the number of covers from 34 to ensure social distancing. Martin said: “We have lost covers inside and so we were almost forced to put the extension on the front. We had plans to do this anyway, but it brought them forward.”
Site of Electric Group-operated SWX live music venue on the market: The site of Electric Group-operated live music venue SWX in Bristol is up for sale – but it still has 34 years left on its lease agreement. The building is in the centre of Bristol and houses a range of shops and businesses on the ground floor, and SWX nightclub and concert venue upstairs. It is being marketed through Knight Frank property agency with an asking price of £2.25m. Situated on the corner of Fairfax Street and Nelson Street, the building currently contains seven retail units, including a barber, a William Hill bookmakers, what was clothing store 5 Pointz and a sandwich bar. All other leases in the building have either already run out in 2020 or expire in 2021. But the lease for the former ballroom that SWX operates in runs until 2054.
Elior UK makes move to 100% electric fleet: Contract caterer Elior UK has committed to transition its vehicles to 100% electric. The exchange programme has been developed as part of the company’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It will see the replacement of Elior’s petrol and diesel vans and company cars with eco-efficient vehicles that are EV (full electric), PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric) or non-plug-in hybrid electric. Any vehicle manufacturers that do not offer alternative fuelled vehicles will be removed from Elior’s car policy, which will be reviewed annually to account for any changes. To support the changeover, Elior will invest in installing electric charging points at its head offices in London and Macclesfield. Charlotte Wright, corporate social responsibility manager at Elior UK, said: “The UK government has announced it will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030. We are ahead of this. Going green with our vehicles is a big step in the changes we are working towards in becoming a more environmentally sound business.”