City Diary — 21 October

By The PMA Team

- Last updated on GMT

City Diary — 21 October

Related tags Pub company Stonegate pub company Richard branson Public house Punch

All the latest rumour and gossip from the City.

Marston's makes newts headlines

Marston's completed 15 new pub-restaurant openings in its most recent financial year. These included two of its "Magnum" sites — bigger pub-restaurants — in the Kent port of Dover, and one in Cheshire, and three sites where they partnered up with Travelodge. Each of these pubs creates 50-60 new jobs, and more if a lodge is adjacent — no wonder local authorities are enthusiastic.

Most bizarre planning requirements so far? One pub had to have a "newt fence", one was held up for six months by a horseshoe bat, and another authority demanded a doctor's surgery be built where no demand existed. The winner must be the Jenny Wren in Sittingbourne, Kent, with a Saxon burial site with the remains of 146 "bodies" and 2,000 artefacts. At least Marston's won the Canterbury Preservation Award at the Jenny Wren and an appearance on the TV show Digging For Britain. We hear it's trading well.

Branson interest waxes and wanes

Entrepreneur Richard Branson has an eye for the main chance. Real Business magazine reports that Branson took a shine to the Secrets lap-dancing chain, which has a turnover of £12m from five London sites. The bearded one told Secrets founder Stephen Less that he'd like to buy in.

Alas, his advisers told him that the business was not in keeping with his public image. There was one last flicker of interest though. Less says: "The day after 9/11, my secretary told me that Branson wanted an urgent meeting. Putting two and two together, I reckon he thought his airline was going to go up the Swannee and he was going to use that as an excuse to his people to get involved with me." Again, alas, his airline survived and his interest faded.

Punch improves reversion record

Punch Taverns is doing a little better at avoiding reversionary leases. The managed division has suffered at regular intervals from sites pinging back from the likes of Orchid, Regent Inns and Good Time Pub Company. Diary​ hears that the property team at Punch has reduced the number of sites bouncing out of Regent's administration to just six — originally it was thought 13 would drop into its lap. And the property guys think they might be able to stop 12 or 13 sites, currently sitting with the TCG Acquisition's administrator, coming Punch's way.

Fiveeightzero counts on M&B

Funky London-based multiple operator Fiveeightzero, one of the UK's fastest-growing independent pub groups, has nine joint venture sites with Mitchells & Butlers (M&B). Some wondered if the partnership had much future, given M&B's sale of the type of site — wet-led and city-centre based — that has been getting converted into funky

bar/pub hybrids in towns and cities. Diary​ hears Fiveeightzero has bought the freehold of one M&B site, the Defectors Weld in Shepherd's Bush, and hopes to make M&B an offer it can't refuse on the Lock Tavern in Camden Lock, the success of which helped put the M&B franchise division on a firm footing.

Roadshow a real highlight for Nick

Spotted at the Punch roadshow in Twickenham, west London, was Enterprise regional director Nick Light. Diary hears Enterprise is considering introducing a roadshow for its own tenants based on the success of Punch's, which attracts almost 50% of its 6,000 licensees.

Time called on freehouse trial

A town-centre concept trial undertaken by M&B is to be discontinued. The managed pub company began a trial of a concept called Samuel Cooper Freehouse at the start of this year in about six pubs. The venues offered carvery meals every day, breakfasts in the morning and Costa coffee. Industry observers thought the concept was largely modelled on JD Wetherspoon.

However, the six pubs are among the 333 sites sold by M&B to Stonegate Pub Company, the new pub operating vehicle backed by TDR Capital. A source close to Stonegate indicated that the sites had not achieved the sales uplifts need to continue the trial and will be run as unbranded high-street venues.

AG&G remains discreet at dinner

London-based property agent AG&G hosted a dinner at the Connaught Hotel in the capital last week to celebrate its first 10 years in business. Those attending included a cross-section of older, established pub operators such as Punch, Enterprise, Greene King, M&B, Shepherd Neame and Harveys, along with the "Young Turks" of the Home Counties scene, Realpubs, ETM Group, Novus and Urban & Country Leisure to name but a few. Colin Wellstead, AG&G's non-executive chairman, told the gathering that the company's first office turned out to have a brothel located above it.

In their years at the site, the agent's principals spotted only one client using the establishment. "It's an indication of their discretion that they won't tell me who it was — so I don't know whether he's in the room tonight," said Wellstead.

Brakspear draws in top tenants

Brakspear is in the middle of a red-hot run in attracting some of the UK's finest multi-site operators as tenants. Ted Docherty's Tailor Made Steaks has taken three sites, Martin Webb's Pub & Kitchen Company has re-opened Brakspear's Portland, his third Brakspear site, in Hove, East Sussex, as the Stoneham Pub & Pizzeria and above-mentioned Fiveeightzero has re-opened the company's Owl & Pussycat in east London's Shoreditch. The first weekend went so well at the Stoneham and Owl & Pussycat that fresh supplies of beer were needed mid-week. "We're very pleased with how it's going," a senior Brakspear source tells Diary​.

Chef & Brewer cooks up wide appeal

Chef & Brewer refurbishments by Punch — there have been 57 so far — are almost all beating their 25% Return on Investment hurdle. It might have implications for the new, upmarket Pub & Kitchen Company concept (a gastropub brand) that the company originally thought might expand to 50 sites out of converted Chef & Brewers. "Chef & Brewer is doing even better than we thought," said managed division boss Mike Tye. "They're proving to have broader appeal than we originally thought."

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