City Diary — 20 January

By The PMA Team

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Pub company New year's day Main street

Bulaitis: founded Ever So Sensible
Bulaitis: founded Ever So Sensible
All the latest rumour and gossip from the City.

Iona's healthy £2.1m profit

Top-class Scottish managed operator Stefan King, who heads the funky G1 Group, took a diversion into leased and tenanted pubs, via Iona, a few years back. What's less known is that Scottish & Newcastle Pub Company holds a 25% stake in the tenanted business (S&NPC staffers Willie Crawshay and Chris Moore sit on the board) — according to the website, Iona has 200 leased pubs. Accounts filed just before Christmas show it's a tenanted pub company in the pink. Turnover for the year was £3.3m and profit before tax was £2.1m.

Last hooray for Henry's

The Henry's bar in Cambridge, operated by TCG, seemed the height of sophistication when it opened a decade or so ago — and was taking £70,000 per week in its heyday. Sad to see it close then on New Year's Eve. Boss Nigel Wright tells Diary: "The lease came to an end; we couldn't agree new lease renewal terms so agreed to surrender back to one of the Cambridge colleges." A new tenant is being sought.

The brotherhood of cask brewers

There is something distinctly fraternal about cask-ale brewers. Last year, Marston's brewing boss Stephen Oliver joined the Batemans board in a non-executive capacity. The move was prompted by the strong relationship between Oliver and Batemans chief executive Hadyn Biddle — the latter gave Oliver his first job in the brewing industry at Scottish & Newcastle many moons ago. It's a magnanimous gesture from Marston's and pretty selfless donation of time by Oliver — his fee goes into the Marston's pot, according to the company's annual report.

Martin bros use their noodles

The pub and restaurant cross-fertilisation continues to gather pace. First-rate London gastro operators Ed and Tom Martin, founders of eight-strong ETM Group, spotted the potential of Vietnamese noodle restaurant concept Pho early on at the first site in Islington. The brothers took a stake in Pho to fund the roll-out and have been mentoring the business — the most recent ETM Group accounts indicate a very modest management services fee came the way of the company for the brothers' efforts.

Parfitt chairman at Yellowhammer

Pub-sector executives are a durable bunch. Former Magic Pub Company and Morrells executive Derek Parfitt has emerged from the semi-wilderness to become the first chairman of Yellowhammer Bars, the late-night operator led by James Spragg. Parfitt has been running a number of business services companies covering finance, personnel management, and leadership training. His client base encompasses aviation, insurance, leisure, food manufacturing and property. Sounds like a useful all-rounder.

Sharp's directors' modest salaries

Work hard, live lean. That was the sage advice Diary received when it came to expanding a pub company 15 years ago. Accounts filed for booming Cornish brewery Sharp's indicate its three directors are living a pretty abstemious life. Profits may have quadrupled to £1.63m for the most recent year to 31 October 2010, but Nicholas and Lorraine Baker plus Joe Keohane are drawing a very modest combined £109,239 basic, including pension.

Bill's still getting up to speed

Bill's, the rather awesome grocer-cum-café concept, opened its first London site, in Covent Garden, in November last year. Will it meet high expectations? Early reports are mixed, including this one from Hall & Woodhouse head of food & restaurants Alec Howard: "Site still looked great, if a little tidier, the uniforms looked more like, well, uniforms — great service, but the food was just a tad off the pace. Knowing the team, though, I'm sure this was just a blip — I've heard great reports from others." For those wondering what kind of money Bill's takes, Diary can help. Accounts filed at the end of last year show just short of £3.6m of turnover across two sites — a pretty impressive £36,000 per week per site net, especially given that one of the sites, the original one in Lewes, probably has around 1,300sq ft of trading space.

Greene King's bold Scots move

Scotland is a different country. Greene King might be less than keen on high-street expansion in England. But it's making a lot of hay in Scotland, not least because the market is so fragmented. In Dunfermline, JD Wetherspoon is planning to convert a former court building in the high street.

Not in the least bit put off, Greene King wants to convert a building directly opposite into a pub — it's currently used by night-time wardens, but has been a bank and council tax office. A spokesman for Wetherspoon chirps: "If we are making an application to open a new bar in Dunfermline it would be churlish to say that anyone else planning to do the same is a bad thing."

Fastcask lives up to its name

Genuine innovation is a rare commodity. Step forward then Marston's head brewer Richard Frost, the man who created ready-to-use cask convenience product Fastcask.

The test of valuable innovation is often the speed of take-up.

Diary hears that Marston's has shipped around 20,000 Fastcask brewers' barrels since it was launched nine months ago, with an estimated half of those through completely new sales channels.

Bulaitis favours food development over wet-led trade

Former Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) executive Chris Bulaitis, founder of East Midlands-based Ever So Sensible, has been focused on scaling down his wet-led businesses while developing foodier sites — a lot like M&B itself. He's got four French-style bistros open, badged as La Mistral, and last year surrendered leases on wetter sites in Sheffield and Huddersfield in a move that will add £70,000 to profits this year. Good to hear that Bulaitis, who worked on student venues at M&B, can still out-punch on the high street — his Dogma sites in Nottingham and Lincoln were ahead 7% and 19% in the year to 31 March 2010.

Ever So Sensible Bars had a tough year, but his bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, is keeping faith — it's taken a 10% equity stake by way of preference shares with an annual 3% dividend, together with a property participation clause giving it a 7% interest in the freehold portion of the company.

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