Diary Special

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Related tags: Private equity, Public house

O brother, where art thou? The real news this year from The Sunday Times' much-thumbed annual list of Britain's super rich was not who was in it, but...

O brother, where art thou?

The real news this year from The Sunday Times' much-thumbed annual list of Britain's super rich was not who was in it, but who was not. Robert, below right, and Vincent Tchenguiz normally appear as a joint entry and last year featured at 78 with a combined wealth of £850m.

But this year? Only poor Vincent, below left, made it with a vastly diminished empire now worth just £200m, ranking him down at a lowly 397. Robert, who has investments in a range of leisure businesses, was left out because of his exposure to share falls in J Sainsbury and Mitchells & Butlers, which the Rich List puts at about £500m.

Every year the compilers of the list, led by Dr Philip Beresford, face "you-can't-add-up" style recriminations from those that care. And while the duo will probably not require the formation of a Tchenguiz Benevolent Fund to keep the wolves from the door, the brothers apparently care quite a bit. Beresford says: "I think they are pretty furious with me. I've discovered it's much harder to do a Rich List in this market than when things are going well."

He intimated that the Tchenguiz brothers were among about 30 individuals that are very keen to go in the list each year — and actively communicated their current worth.

He said: "They were always very eager to be seen to be moving up the list, although I never went with their figures, even at the height of the property market." Last year's £850m entry was the Tchenguizs' highest, although Beresford said the brothers suggested at the time they were worth double if not triple that figure. To make matters worse the brothers have been overtaken by their cousin Vivien Immerman, who made a tidy profit from the sale of the Whyte & Mackay whisky business and is now thought to be pushing £500m.

Not time to push the boat out yet

Robert Tchenguiz has been able to use his paying-in book after a period when cash seemed to be flowing only in the opposite direction. Tchenguiz has sold six hotels to the Travelodge chain in a deal worth £85m. Just to prove that you can't keep a good man down, Tchenguiz has been insisting, to those concerned about the state of his finances, that suggestions he will need to sell his personal yacht are laughable.

Don't panic - it's all part of the plan

One thing worth bearing in mind when you read reports about declining beer volumes in the pub sector is that a lot of pubs have closed for good. An estimated 1,000 pubs have been lost to alternative use. If each was selling 100 barrels, that's 100,000 barrels there alone.

Some pubs, like the 50 or so out of Mitchells & Butlers gone to alternative use, will have been selling more than 100 barrels a year.

And let's not forget, for many licensees selling less beer has been a strategic decision. Punch chief executive Giles Thorley said barrelage declines at Spirit conversions to lease were running at worse than minus 8% to 10% because many retailers had decided to focus on food.

In search of square footage

More evidence that Marston's has high hopes for its Bluu Bar & Brasserie brand. The company has placed an advert in Estates Gazette calling for 5,000 to 12,000 square foot sites in London and the Home Counties. The advert lists 31 London suburbs and 19 Home Counties towns as suitable targets, including the Morning Advertiser's base, Crawley.

Gillis's grape expectations

Former Greene King managed division boss Neil Gillis got the top job at Blacks Leisure, the Millets to Freespirit retail group, in November. Gillis — who once presented to staff at the Esporta health chain completely nude to make a point about the need to not get caught out in a quality audit — owns Thelnetham vineyard in Suffolk, which knocks out 4,000 to 6,000 bottles of wine a year.

His new proper job is proving useful for his hobby business. Grabbing a thick Berghaus jacket while walking a journalist around a Covent Garden store, Gillis says: "At the moment

I am pruning the vines. You can only prune when they are dormant and you have to do it with secateurs, with bare hands, so you are freezing. So this gear is really useful to me."

At the risk of sounding like Chauncey Gardner, the Peter Sellars character in Being There, prune in

the winter to grow in the spring.

Whitbread wants staff - but why?

A phonecall from a Whitbread public relations person to take issue with a Morning Advertiser story about its new Taybarns brand opening in Coventry and Glasgow — the reported openings are wrong. Why, then, is Whitbread advertising for staff in the two places? Also wrong, presumably, is an opening near Newcastle Metro Centre in Swalwell in mid-June for which Whitbread is also advertising for staff.

A food bar for every appetite

Meanwhile, in cyber-space bloggers continue to file excited stories from the frontline at Whitbread's all-you-can-eat Taybarns venue. One blogger, Lynnie, of Neath, reports: "This restaurant takes the 'eat all you want' theory to a whole new level! You pay £5.65 per person at the door, grab a table and dash for the food bars. They have a starters bar, a salad bar, a pizza bar, a meat bar, a curry bar, a restaurant bar and a dessert bar. Each bar has its own menu and you can eat as many different meals from each bar as often as you want and all from that initial payment at the door. I saw one guy go back up for a sixth meal, I couldn't believe it — he was so skinny. There was this old man behind me, I swear he tried every cheesecake in the dessert section, he had a massive belly to match his appetite though ­— he was grinning from ear to ear. Don't know if it was wind, but he sure looked like he was in heaven."

Great minds think alike

Remember JD Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin, below, having a go at private equity firms for causing instability in the pub sector? His thesis was that private equity investment prompts boosts to sales followed swiftly by a downturn. What does private equity titan Jon Moulton make of Martin's comments? He tells City Diary: "I think they're accurate. It's happened in some of his pubs — let alone ours. I don't think there's much more to it than that. Pub investing is not a mysterious art — if you invest in appropriate things you get a boost in sales. If you invest in appropriate things but the guy next door does the same then you do not

keep the boost in sales. That has happened to lots of people."

A look at original Spirit levels

Interesting to note how much of Spirit, Punch's managed division, actually derives from original Spirit, formed in April 2002, and how much is retained from the Scottish & Newcastle Retail (S&NR) estate, bought in October 2003.

Of the 1,400 S&NR pubs, 572 survive as managed venues — more than one in three. Of the original 1,035 managed estate, out of Allied Domecq, there are 155 pubs still being run on the managed model — less than one in five. The rest of Spirit is made up of: Mill House (78 pubs), Tom Cobleigh (48), Good Time Pub Company (11 bounce-backs from the sale of sites to Tattershall Pub Company), four GRS Inns transfers and an individual acquisition.

Refreshing host's welcome for JDW

As we know, normally licensees don't tend to welcome the arrival of a JD Wetherspoon (JDW) in town. Refreshing variation to this in the town of Calne, Wiltshire (population: 12,600) where Wetherspoon is searching hard for a site. Richard Snell, landlord of the Kings Arms, says: "I think this is fantastic for Calne. If there were more attractive pubs in Calne it would mean people would stay in the town for a night out and healthy competition is always good in a town centre. We might lose

out on some food trade, but all that means is we will have to think up new and exciting ideas for

our menu. With a Wetherspoon's p

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