Shepherd Neame boss – we’re very much still on the acquisition trail: Shepherd Neame chief executive Jonathan Neame has told Propel the company is “very much still on the acquisition trail” and hopes to have added two new sites in London by the end of 2018. Neame said the company was also making investments in its pubs “for the long term” and would spend £10m on refurbishments this year to help continue to drive footfall. He added: “Although we did not add any pubs to the estate in the first half of the financial year, we are very much still on the acquisition trial. We tend to expand through single-site acquisitions but we would be open to other opportunities on the market. We are looking at unique and special places, particularly in coastal areas and small villages as we continue to develop destination pubs. Saying that, we are looking at two more sites in London but it’s very early stages. We’re currently working on three schemes in the Maidstone area – one in the town centre, one on the riverside and one at Kings Hill. They are three very different offers but I think it highlights the diversity of areas in which we are developing our business.” Neame said the company was carrying out five refurbishment projects at the “top end” of about £1m each but pointed out the smaller £50,000 to £150,000 schemes were just as important. He added: “We’ve just been going through our plans for the next couple of years. We have a long-term focus on investment and will continue to invest through good times and bad.” Neame said he expected the challenging trading conditions the company faces to continue in the second half of the year and beyond. He added it was too early to know what impact last week’s heavy snow would have on the business but acknowledged there would be some effect. He said: “It’s been a solid first half for us. To me it shows the strength and resilience of a company such as Shepherd Neame in what is a tough trading environment, particularly for the eating-out market. Because our pubs tend not to be where the plethora of restaurants are we are less exposed to what has been happening on the high street.”

Square Pie creditors face £2m deficiency: Creditors of gourmet pie company Square Pie, which operated five restaurants before going into administration last month, face an estimated total deficiency of more than £2m, a new document has revealed. A notice of administrator’s proposal filed at Companies House by administrators Robert Croxen and William Wright, of KPMG, showed a total deficiency of £2,150,880. The document showed for its 2017 financial year the company had turnover of £3,765,000, with Ebitda of minus £276,000. The restaurant business had revenue of £2,867,000 with Ebitda of minus £33,000, while the grocery businesses generated sales of £898,000 with Ebitda of £57,000. The grocery business was acquired in a pre-pack sale by new company Beat Foods, which Square Pie founder Martin Dewey had a 25% stake in, for a “six-figure sum”, which the document revealed was exactly £100,000. An offer was also initially made for the leaseholds of the restaurants. This was for £30,000 up front for a licence to occupy for six months while the purchaser sought assignment of the leases with a further £370,000 less any rent and service charge arrears (£283,043) to then be paid. However, following further discussions the offer was withdrawn and following the sale of the grocery business the five restaurants – four in London and one in Birmingham – were shut. Secured creditor HSBC is owed £68,330 under the terms of an invoice-factoring facility and that is expected to be repaid in full. Meanwhile, HSBC and Santander hold fixed and floating charges over Square Pie’s assets but neither party were owed money on the administrator’s appointment. The amount of preferential creditors claims, made up of employees, at this time is unknown but based on current estimates it is “highly unlikely” a dividend would be available. Unsecured creditors are also considered to “have no prospect” of a payout.

Maxwell’s Bar & Grill to relocate, blames ‘crippling’ rent: Maxwell’s Bar & Grill in James Street, Covent Garden, operated by Maxwell’s Restaurant Group, will relocate to nearby King Street after 25 years, with “crippling” rent blamed for the relocation. The lease of the James Street site is due to end soon and Maxwell’s will close on Sunday, 8 April to reopen two days later at a site currently operating as Joe’s Southern Table and Bar, also owned by Maxwell’s Restaurant Group. The new Maxwell’s will continue to offer the brand’s signature burgers, steaks, ribs, wings and iconic freakshakes. Jim Robertson, group operations director of Maxwell’s Restaurant Group, said: “In an ever-changing London market, Maxwell’s Bar and Grill has stood the test of time. However, in the face of unsustainable rent increases the group had to consider more viable business options. We don’t intend to let crippling rates close this iconic restaurant. The opportunity to relocate to new premises allows us as a business to continue operating in Covent Garden as well as consider new opportunities across London.” Joe’s Southern Table and Bar will reopen at a new site in Covent Garden in May. Last week, Maxwell’s Restaurant Group launched a petition to save its Roadhouse live music venue in Covent Garden with the group’s founder, Brian Stein, accusing the landlord of “forcing him out to make way for a big international brand”.

Charles Wells to open five more UK sites in 2018 and ‘hungry’ for further acquisitions: Bedford-based brewer and retailer Charles Wells has five more UK sites in the pipeline for 2018 and is “hungry” to add more pubs to its portfolio. Commercial director Peter Wells told Propel the company is set to double its four-strong Pizza, Pots and Pints estate as well as add to its Apostrophe brand. He said: “We are continuing to develop our Pizza, Pints and Pots concept and have sites in Cambridge and Oxford among the pipeline. It’s a really strong business model. We’re looking to open in areas that have a strong 25 to 30 age demographic and there are a number of towns that we think will suit the concept. Although we have five pubs opening, we are hungry for more sites and it would be good if we can add to that number further. We’re also growing in France. We’ve just opened our 14th pub, in Lille, have another coming up in La Rochelle and we are looking at a number of French towns.” Meanwhile, Wells said the company’s application for a new £13m brewery marked the start of a new era for the business. He said should planning permission be agreed, work would start in the summer with the first beers being produced in the summer of 2019. He added: “We will have the technical capability as well as the expertise to create a variety of great beers. It’s clear the craft category is where the opportunity lies and this will put us in a position to hopefully be at the forefront of that market. We’re very excited – we’re like kids in a toy shop!”

Authentic Alehouses doubles crowdfunding campaign target to £10m: Leeds-based Authentic Alehouses, led by Burning Night Group boss Allan Harper, has doubled the target of its fund-raise on crowdfunding platform Crowdstacker to £10m. The company has also extended the campaign, which was due to end on Monday (5 March), until 11pm on Thursday, 5 April. Authentic Alehouses launched its funding bid in July to revive the fortunes of underperforming pubs by attracting a new generation of customers with a menu of “quality artisan food and drink, updated decor and a variety of entertainment”. It opened its first venue in November by relaunching The Albert Hotel in Hull following a £1m refurbishment. Authentic Alehouses is offering investors a 6.5% per annum interest rate through a peer-to-peer loan. Backers are also given the potential to earn income tax-free by investing via Crowdstacker’s Innovative Finance ISA. Authentic Alehouses’ campaign has so far raised £5,072,167. The company plans to use the capital to refurbish sites in prime locations, streamline and modernise its operation to cut waste and introduce higher-quality food, a broader range of drinks, and more family-focused entertainment. Last month, Authentic Alehouses acquired the freehold of the Albert Hotel in Southport, Merseyside, for its fourth site.

Clink Charity to launch Manchester cafe next month for first site outside prison: The Clink Charity, which aims to rehabilitate prisoners by training them for the food industry, is to launch a cafe in Manchester next month for its first site outside a prison. The Clink Café will open in grade II-listed Canada House in Chepstow Street and train Clink graduates and homeless clients of the Centrepoint charity to gain City and Guilds NVQ Level 2 in food and beverage service as well as barista skills. Opening in mid-April, the cafe will offer a range of food and drink using seasonal ingredients. Clink Charity chief executive Chris Moore said: “We are delighted to be opening The Clink Café and to partner with a landlord such as LJ Real Estate, which shares our values. Our Clink restaurants have proved incredibly successful and the cafe will give us the opportunity to continue the training and provide our graduates with the chance to achieve their full potential.” Regarding possible expansion of the Clink Café concept, a spokeswoman told Propel the charity was “looking into more projects in the future” but nothing had yet been confirmed. The Clink Charity trains up to 160 prisoners a day at prisons in Brixton, Cardiff, High Down and Styal. In November, three of Clink’s sites were voted best restaurants in their area on TripAdvisor. HMP Brixton was also rated London’s third-best restaurant out of 18,161 sites.

Warrens Bakery accelerating expansion of franchise business as it reports turnover and Ebitda boost: Cornwall-based baker Warrens Bakery is accelerating expansion of its franchise business as it reported a turnover and Ebitda boost. The company saw turnover increase to £16,251,522 for the year ending 30 June 2017, compared with £14,585,813 the year before. Ebitda was up to £708,298, compared with £622,551 the previous year. The firm reported a pre-tax loss of £31,222 compared with a loss of £10,958 the year before, according to accounts filed at Companies House. Warrens Bakery had completed the rebranding of all 51 of its company sites with another two opening by this spring. Meanwhile, the company has opened its first two franchise stores with a further 27 expected to be open by the summer. In their report accompanying the accounts, the directors stated: “Retail turnover achieved growth of 10.8% in the year. Trade and wholesale sales continue to expand in both domestic and international markets. Growth of 16.1% has been achieved this year. This continued growth resulted in a further increase in profitability at Ebitda level. The franchise business is operated by Warrens Bakery Franchise but products are supplied by this company via a wholesale distributor and therefore growth in the franchise estate will result in increased wholesale sales. To advance our expansion plans, work to extend and re-equip the bakery at St Just was completed in March 2017.” During the period, the number of employees increased to 516 from 489 the previous year. In November, Warrens Bakery said it was targeting a 1,000-strong estate in the next ten years.

Five Points Brewing Company launches £750,000 crowdfunding campaign for expansion: Hackney-based Five Points Brewing Company will launch a £750,000 fund-raise on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube on Friday (9 March) to “expand its community”. The company, which is offering a 10% equity stake in return for the investment, will use the capital to open the first Five Points taproom at The Pembury Tavern in Hackney, which the company acquired last month. Funds will also be invested in new brewhouse equipment and fermentation tanks that would triple production in a bid to increase sales from two million to six million pints a year (34,000 hectolitres). A new research and development brew-kit at The Pembury would be used to develop new recipes and brewing processes. The company reached capacity in late 2016 and has been brewing some of its beer with a brewery in Belgium. The investment would enable Five Points to bring all production back to London. The fund-raise would also see the company invest in its team, expand UK distribution and develop its growing export business. Five Points Brewing Company was the first brewer in the UK to be an accredited Living Wage employer, sources electricity from 100% renewable sources and helped set up an apprenticeship scheme at Hackney Community College. Co-founder and managing director Ed Mason said: “We founded Five Points in the heart of east London with a commitment to the community and the prospect of inviting the community to join us on our journey is really exciting. What we love about crowdfunding is the ability to welcome on board hundreds, maybe thousands of beer-lovers who will be literally invested in the success of our company. We believe we have the potential not just to cement our position as one of London’s favourite brands but to become a truly national brand.”

McDonald’s offers fresh beef burgers at 3,500 US sites: McDonald’s has started serving fresh beef Quarter Pounders and other premium burgers at 3,500 restaurants in the US, with most of its other locations in the country to follow suit by May. The expansion comes as McDonald’s improves food quality and increases menu variety to counter competition from rivals. McDonald’s US president Chris Kempczinski called the switch to fresh beef Quarter Pounders the “most significant change to restaurant operations” since the company began offering all-day breakfast in 2015. The project has required changes by kitchen crews and suppliers. Kempczinski told Reuters: “Our suppliers have invested about $60m to update their supply chain to be able to make this conversion from frozen to fresh. If it slows the drive-through, that’s the critical part of our business so we had to spend a lot of time making sure we were cooking only when someone ordered. We figured out a way to do it that wasn’t going to slow service time.” Fresh beef Quarter Pounders and “signature crafted” burgers are available in restaurants in Miami, Orlando and Nashville, rolling-out to Los Angeles, Houston and San Francisco in the next month. McDonald’s is also launching premium burger Garlic White Cheddar and said it would release more “signature crafted” sandwiches later in the year.

Cottons appoints new executive head chef: Cottons Caribbean Rum Shack has appointed Collin Brown as executive head chef for its four sites – in Camden, Shoreditch, Notting Hill and Vauxhall. Brown’s career has spanned Jamaica, Europe and the Middle East, bringing his Caribbean flavours to a worldwide audience. In 2008, he launched his eponymous fine dining Caribbean restaurant in Canary Wharf, earning an AA Rosette. In 2013 he returned to his Jamaican homeland to oversee his own restaurant and cookery school. Two years later Brown launched his own range of Caribbean sauces and seasonings available at Tesco stores across the UK. He said: ‘I’m thrilled to be joining London’s best-known Caribbean restaurant brand. I’m currently working on menu development and have lots of other exciting plans in the pipeline.”

McManus Pub Company to convert Bellini brasserie in Essex to new concept: McManus Pub Company is converting its Bellini Bar and Brasserie in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, into a new concept. The site in London Road will reopen as The Oakleigh next month offering “epic food, creative cocktails and great times”, the Basildon, Canvey and Southend Echo reports. Minor changes are being made to the exterior of the site as well as a complete makeover of the inside. Work initially began in January. McManus Pub Company operates 15 venues, with 13 of them in Northamptonshire. Its other site outside the county, Mariners Court, is also in Leigh-on-Sea, opposite the Grand Hotel.

MasterChef winner Simon Wood to open second restaurant, in Chester: MasterChef winner Simon Wood is to open his second restaurant. Wood, who won the 2015 series of the BBC show, launched fine dining restaurant Wood in Manchester in September. Now he is to open his second venue, in Chester. Wood has signed a deal with Castlebridge Group, which is developing a new Hotel Indigo in the city, with the venue earmarked for opening in spring 2019. The restaurant will feature an open kitchen with a Josper oven and include a chef’s table in addition to a ten-seat private dining room. Wood told Manchester Evening News: “Wood Chester will offer the same ethos as the restaurant in Manchester. We serve modern interpretations of traditional flavours with a focus on simple, seasonal dishes with the odd surprise along the way. It’s unfussy, high-end dining with approachable staff, comfortable chairs and dishes guests want to order again and again. I have been delighted with how well we have been received in Manchester and can’t wait to take the restaurant to Chester with Hotel Indigo.” Castlebridge Group commercial director Jenna Dienn said: “It is important to us that we create the right food and beverage propositions within the sites we manage and we feel Simon and Wood Chester will offer something perfect for the hotel guests and local diners, who will be excited to see some MasterChef magic on their doorstep.”

Merlin Entertainments launches apprenticeship academy: Merlin Entertainments has launched a dedicated apprenticeship academy aimed at progressing chefs and managers through the business. The programme, which will support 50 apprentices at the outset, has been designed in partnership with HIT Training. The academy will offer staff five different apprenticeships covering hospitality team member food production, commis chef, chef de partie, senior production chef and team leader. Apprentices will take part in a mix of work-based learning and workshops and will also network with different Merlin attractions in the UK. Holly Foot, resourcing and development manager at Merlin Entertainments, said: “Our attractions are constantly evolving so offering high-quality training is paramount to help develop and attract the calibre of chefs and managers we need. The diversity of our business often makes it more difficult to recruit for specific roles. We hope creating a tailored programme will allow our apprentices to acquire the knowledge needed to run the day-to-day operations at our attractions, providing them with the experience and inspiration to progress into their dream roles.” As part of its commitment to investing in staff, Merlin Entertainments plans to extend its apprenticeship programme to support the progression of additional team members within its attractions.

BrewDog launches Pink IPA to ‘highlight gender pay gap’: Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog has launched Pink IPA, a beer it says will take on the “global scourge of gender pay inequality and combat sexist marketing”. Satirically dubbed Beer for Girls, BrewDog’s flagship Punk IPA will be packaged in lurid pink and renamed Pink IPA in mockery of the “lazy marketing efforts targeting the female market”. The beer will be sold in BrewDog bars at a 20% discount to “those who identify as women” as a “beer equivalent to the gender pay gap”. For the next four weeks, BrewDog will also donate 20% of proceeds from sales of bottled Pink IPA and Punk IPA to causes that fight gender inequality. The company said it was particularly interested in developing a “new wave of diversity in brewing”. BrewDog global head of marketing Sarah Warman said: “We want to accelerate change by empowering more women to make their voices heard and calling out industries and employees that need to do more. With Pink IPA, we are making a statement the only way we know how – with beer.” However, the news received a mixed response on social media. One tweet read: “I would have far more respect for @brewdog if they just scrapped their pink IPA “for girls” and held their hands up and said “we got this seriously wrong – we are sorry”.

Fourpure Brewing Co invests £2m to expand London base and boost capacity by 400%: Bermondsey-based craft brewer Fourpure Brewing Co has invested £2m to expand its London base, which has seen its production capacity increase by 400% to 14 million pints a year. Founded in 2013, the brewery has invested heavily to become a state-of-the-art brewing, packaging and distribution business that has now expanded into a fifth warehouse on Bermondsey Trading Estate, covering 25,000 square feet in total. Having spent £1.4m last year to install a canning and packing line, the brewer has invested £2m in a four-vessel Craft-Star brewing system as well as an upgraded centrifuge, a carbonation module, some indoor and outdoor chillers, malt and spent grain silos, and a dozen 200-hectolitre fermentation tanks. The brewery has also expanded its hospitality space, providing a modern taproom where customers can try an ever-changing range of beers from 16 taps. Fourpure co-founder Dan Lowe said: “London is our heartland and is integral to our brand so we are determined to grow into the city we love rather than move out of it. This latest investment has allowed us to quadruple our production and stay true to our brand heritage.”

Former The Lucky Onion Group duo reopen Cotswolds pub: Peter Creed and Tom Noest have reopened The Bell in Langford, Gloucestershire. Creed and Noest have relaunched the Cotswolds pub, which features two bars and eight letting rooms, having acquired the lease through agent Fleurets. Creed said: “The opening has been very successful and the addition of the letting bedrooms will help to attract visitors to the area. We have already welcomed The Times’ restaurant critic, Giles Coren, and we are thrilled he scored our pub ten out of ten and said he had the best bite of food ever at The Bell.” Creed was part of the team that launched The Lucky Onion Group in 2008, playing a crucial role in its substantial growth during the past nine years. Noest joined The Lucky Onion in 2014, where he covered all front-of-house departments as well as spending time in the kitchen. He then moved to Made by Bob in Cirencester.

Variegate Properties acquires Cornish seafront hotel for second site: Leisure company Variegate Properties has acquired a seafront hotel in Newquay, Cornwall, for its second site. The 66-bedroom Kilbirnie Hotel offers uninterrupted coastal views, a large bar, a 200-capacity function room, a 150-cover restaurant, lounge, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and a gym. Arranged over four floors, the hotel also features a large commercial catering kitchen, extensive ancillary areas, and an apartment for use as owners’ accommodation. The previous owner, Bobbie Cobley, managed the hotel for almost 30 years. Stephen Champion, senior agent at Christie & Co, which brokered the deal, said: “The Cornish hotel industry has reaped the rewards of the weaker pound over the last season, with many owners reporting an increase in their top-line hotel revenue. Buyer demand in Cornwall remains strong, with interest coming from regional and international operators. We wish Variegate Properties the best of luck with this new addition to its portfolio and look forward to seeing how it develops this already thriving business.” Variegate Properties purchased the Crown Hotel in Cumbria in 2017.

Swansea-based The Gower Gin Company aims to triple production with distillery move: Swansea-based The Gower Gin Company is aiming to triple production by moving to a new distillery. The company, which produces gin flavoured with wild foraged fennel, has lodged plans with Swansea Council for a distillery in the village of Port Eynon. The would-be micro-distillery is currently a breezeblock-constructed outbuilding with a corrugated roof. Gower Gin Company owner Andrew Brooks, told Insider Media: “We launched in September and it was an immediate success. We had one retailer, a wine merchant in Swansea and had to restock them four times in a week, and it’s grown steadily since then. We now supply 60 to 70 outlets across Wales with a range of distributors covering the UK. We’ve been growing steadily since we launched – we were doing hundreds a week and the plant we hope to get permission for will treble our production capacity. We’re currently producing the gin through a partner near Cardiff but hope to bring production back to the Gower to support local jobs.”

Access Group expands hospitality suite with Procure Wizard acquisition: Software provider Access Group has expanded its hospitality suite with the acquisition of Procure Wizard, which provides online procurement solutions for the UK hospitality industry. The purchase follows recent acquisitions by Access Group of DesignMyNight, PPM & Associates, Selima and Intelligent Business Systems. The Procure Wizard online platform enables hospitality businesses to streamline back-office processes, deliver measurable cost savings, and improve profitability and labour efficiencies. It is best known for its Purchase to Pay technology, which streamlines procurement practices, reducing indirect spend, improving controls and automating invoice processing. Procure Wizard also offers food, beverage and laundry control solutions, time and attendance, menu engineering and contract management, and a scanning solution that enables operators to capture 100% of their inbound invoices. Procure Wizard has more than 25,000 users and over 200 clients including Patisserie Valerie, Macdonald Hotels & Resorts, Bill’s, Le Bistrot Pierre and Peach Pubs. Access Group chief executive Chris Bayne said: “With the acquisition of Procure Wizard we can extend our service provision to include online procurement, purchase to pay and menu engineering to deliver an end-to-end solution for multi-site operators.” Procure Wizard managing director William Gorol added: “We are confident Access is the right partner to take Procure Wizard to the next level.”