Property round-up

2020’s biggest pub property stories

By Stuart Stone contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Property, Legal, Finance, Pubco + head office, Tenanted + leased, Freehouse

In the final pub property round-up of 2020 The Morning Advertiser (MA) looks back on 20 of the biggest deals, revamps and reopenings covered in the past 12 months.

Punch purchases seven-pub package from Heartstone Inns  

As reported by The MA in January​, the operator of about 1,250 pubs across England, Scotland and Wales, completed the acquisition of seven pubs from Heartstone Inns. 

Established in 2007, Heartstone Inns will continue to operate its remaining eight pubs following the sale of seven sites in the south-west to Punch.

“We are pleased to welcome these seven wonderful pubs into the Punch family and look forward to working together with our new publicans and their teams,” Punch chief executive officer Clive Chesser said.

“We would like to thank Heartstone Inns, who have been working closely with us to ensure a smooth transition for everyone. We have plans to invest in all seven pubs during 2020, providing them with industry-leading support to allow them to flourish, while ensuring they continue to operate at the very heart of their local communities. We will provide further updates as these plans progress, but in the meantime, the pubs continue to be open and trading as usual.”

Heartstone Inns managing director James Birch added: “We are delighted to have sold seven of our pubs to Punch. As a result, we can continue to develop and expand our remaining estate of large food-led managed pubs. We would like to thank our transferring staff for their loyalty and hard work and wish them, their customers and Punch the very best for the future.” 

Punch

Hawthorn Leisure acquires 29 pubs from Marston’s

In January​, NewRiver REIT’s pub arm, Hawthorn Leisure, acquired 29 pubs from brewer and operator Marston’s for an undisclosed sum.

The deal saw Hawthorn Leisure’s estate pass the 700-pub mark after a £17.9m deal for Bravo Inns – the operator of 44 wet-led community pubs predominantly located in north-west England – in December 2019 grew its stable to 698 sites. 

Hawthorn’s purchase also follows the sale of 137 Marston’s pubs to Chester-based operator Admiral Taverns in November for £44.9m – growing the latter’s estate past the 1,000-pub mark.

Liverpool pub joins Buckingham Palace with Grade I-listed status

The Philharmonic Dining Rooms in Liverpool was upgraded to Grade I-listed status in February​ by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England – joining the likes of Buckingham Palace and Chatsworth House among the top 2.5% of protected historic buildings in England. 

A throwback to what’s being called the “golden age” of pub building in the late 19th century, the Nicholson’s pub was built from 1898 to 1900 and is the first purpose-built Victorian pub to receive Grade I status. 

“We’re so thrilled to have received this listing,” Eamonn Lavin, manager of the Philharmonic Dining Rooms, said. “The Philharmonic Dining Rooms is one of the most famous pubs in Liverpool and to be granted Grade I-listed status we join a very small group of elite pubs across the country. It’s an incredible moment for us and is something we will always be proud of.”

Philharmonic

SA Brain to offload 40 ‘non-core’ pubs

In March​, Welsh brewer and pub operator SA Brain announced that it had identified around 40 pubs across its estate of managed and partnership pubs to be sold over the coming months.

As part of a three-year plan to future-proof its business, SA Brain – which had only recently moved into its new, multimillion-pound Dragon Brewery in Cardiff – intended to invest the proceeds in the remainder of its currently 160-strong estate.

A company statement explained: “Regrettably, we will require fewer people to provide services to our pub estate once the sales are completed and so we will reorganise our support centre to create a leaner and more agile business.” 

Timpson family acquires 16 Hospitality from administrators 

The family behind nationwide shoe repair chain, Timpson, tied up a deal for beleaguered pub operator 16 Hospitality for an undisclosed sum in June​ – saving almost 100 jobs in the process. 

As reported by The MA​, the Cheshire-based operator of four pubs appointed joint administrators Sarah O’Toole and Jason Bell of the Manchester office of Grant Thornton UK after administration took effect on 9 April.​​

Since Covid-19 trading restrictions came into force and Prime Minister Boris Johnson called last orders for pubs on 20 March, all four of 16 Hospitality’s sites closed with the group furloughing the majority of its workforce.  

However, the acquisition of 16 Hospitality’s business and assets by new Timpson family venture Flock Inns means that close to 100 jobs were saved. 

“The impact of Covid-19 on this sector has been significant and therefore we are delighted to have achieved a sale which preserves almost 100 jobs,” O’Toole, an advisory partner at Grant Thornton UK, said. “We wish the purchaser every success as they take the business forward.”

East Coast Concepts saved from administration 

Manchester-based bar and restaurant group East Coast Concepts was bought out of administration in September.

East Coast Concepts, which runs venues in Hale, Alderley Edge, Liverpool, Leeds and Oxford, saw Ben Woolrych and Anthony Collier of FRP Advisory appointed as joint administrators on 1 September.

The operator behind Neighbourhood and Victors was then acquired by an investment group, led by Cairn Group director Naveen Handa as part of a strategic acquisition to enhance the group’s premium hospitality offering.

The deal saved more than 250 jobs with all existing Neighbourhood and Victors sites continuing to trade as normal.

“This acquisition marks a significant milestone for the business and will enable us to embark on the next phase of growth, with an investor, which really sees the value in the brands we have created,” John Hammond, managing director at East Coast Concepts, explained.

“Moving forward we see great potential for premium, experiential and well differentiated brands and will be focused on supporting the existing management team, whilst investing in the brands and it’s people to help realise the exciting growth potential,” Handa added. 

Christie & Co to market Seafood Pub Company sites

Property firm Christie & Co was appointed to market ten sites formerly operated by north west-based pub operator Seafood Pub Company in September​, after the award-winning group was placed into administration in June​​ amid Covid-19 lockdown.

Seafood operated 12 sites across Lancashire and Yorkshire including eight long-leasehold sites, a freehold and a trio of commercial leaseholds, which were all surrendered after the appointment of administrators.  

News of administration followed the business recording a group loss after tax of £2.73m for the full-year to 31 December 2018 in reports filed at Companies House in October 2019.

According to an administrators’ report, while the company benefited from the Government-backed Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme, the business was forecast to empty its cash reserves by June 2020.

Founded in 2010 by Joycelyn Neve, the operator was unable to access a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan during lockdown while an internal fundraise with its lender bank and investors later failed.

According to a press statement issued in June, Neve said: “It goes without saying I am truly heartbroken, to have lost my business, but even more so for my team and Seafood family. 

“We fought as hard as possible, every step of the way and I am just so sorry to all the team that we weren’t able to save the business.”

Seafood

Murdoch money to revive revered London night spot 

Billionaire Elisabeth Murdoch was said to be funding the restoration of historic London music venue Koko in Camden after it was badly damaged by fire in January while closed for refurbishment, according to reports by The Telegraph​ in September​. 

The daughter of Rupert Murdoch and former head of Shine UK, the production company behind Masterchef and Broadchurch, was said to be interested in the venue as part of an attempt to grow her own creative empire, according to The Telegraph​. 

According to Forbes, the Murdoch family's collective fortune is in the region of $16.9bn. 

Following Disney's $71bn purchase of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox assets, $12bn in proceeds were distributed among his six children.

Koko

Greene King pulls plug on 11 Loch Fyne sites

Suffolk-based brewer and pub operator Greene King announced the permanent closure of more than half of its Loch Fyne restaurants in October​. 

Greene King, which acquired the then 36-strong business for £68m in 2007, revealed that it had shuttered 11 of its 21 venues, leaving the brand with ten restaurants, including sites in Edinburgh, Cambridge, York and the City of London.

The operator had previously explored a possible sale and disposed of a number of individual Loch Fyne sites the past 18 months. 

“It’s always a difficult decision to close restaurants, but we have decided to close 11 Loch Fyne restaurants as they are no longer viable,” a spokesperson explained.   

“We are working with our teams locally to try to find them a role in another of our sites. Our teams there are continuing to provide our customers with great service and fresh, sustainably sourced seafood dishes.” 

Whiting & Hammond sites saved from administration 

Kent-based gastro-pub operator Whiting & Hammond was placed into administration as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to reports in October​, with managing director Brian Whiting acquiring three of its sites under the new name WH Pubs, saving 150 jobs. 

WH Pubs will manage Kent pubs the Little Brown Jug near Penshurst; the Cricketers Inn in Meopham; Green Street Green’s the Rose & Crown as well as the Chaser Inn in Shipbourne. 

A spokesman from administrators Turpin Barker Armstrong told The Eastbourne Herald: “We can confirm that Whiting and Hammond, which operated a pub restaurant business in Sussex, Surrey and Kent, has entered administration. 

“The joint administrators have successfully achieved the sale of three sites and are exploring whether there can be any rescue of other sites.” 

Whiting also told The Eastbourne Herald​: "It will come as no surprise that, during this past year, the hospitality sector has endured a torrid time as a result of the pandemic and the forced closure for three and a half months.

“There has been help to a degree from the government but, sadly, this doesn’t go anywhere near the expenses that needed to be covered. 

“Sadly, not for the lack of trying and the continuing added Covid restrictions such as the 10pm curfew, this has not been possible, and unfortunately on 30 September, we called in the administrators.”

Whiting-Hammond-secures-lease-of-former-Young-s-site-in-Kent_wrbm_large

Work in progress at 20 new BrewDog bars 

Scottish craft brewer and bar operator BrewDog has revealed that it has 20 new bars in various stages of construction around the world in October​. 

The operator of more than 100 sites globally is currently working on UK openings in Plymouth, Exeter, Manchester, Chelmsford, Basingstoke, Bath, Ealing, Headingley, Huddersfield, Bradford, Lincoln and Belfast. 

Internationally, the company plans to open sites in the US city of Cleveland, Shanghai, Frankfurt, Bangalore, Wiesbaden in Germany, Mumbai and a second site in Paris. 

“Feels like a crazy time to be expanding but we currently have 20 brand new bars at various stages of construction,” co-founder James Watt told The Yorkshire Evening Post​. 

“These bars will all be carbon negative and will create more than 400 new jobs at a time when job creation is badly needed all over the world.”

Brewdog

Bids made for Stonegate and Ei pub package

In October​, it was reported that a number of interested parties submitted bids for a 42-strong pub package placed on the market to address concerns raised by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) about Stonegate Pub Company’s £3bn acquisition of Ei Group.

It was understood that bids for the 30 freehold and 12 leasehold pubs comprising 32 Ei-owned properties and 10 Stonegate sites were due on 19 October. 

Marketed by CBRE, the pubs need to be divested in a maximum of three packages unless otherwise agreed in writing by the CMA.  

According to reports, Admiral Taverns and real estate investment company Aprirose, which launched pub management company Blackrose in 2019, are among the interested parties. Last year, Aprirose launched Blackrose, its pub management company. 

Wadworth sells 21 pubs to Liberation Group 

Wiltshire-based multiple pub operator and brewer Wadworth announced the sale of 21 pubs – just under half of its managed estate – to Liberation Group for an undisclosed sum in November.

As reported by The MA,​​ the package of pubs made up more than a tenth of Wadworth’s overall portfolio across the south west and London.

The sites that were sold to Liberation Group​ were primarily across Gloucestershire, Hampshire and Wiltshire.

The acquisition added 140 rooms to the Liberation Group’s managed estate, taking the total number of rooms to 223.

It was reported that Liberation will finance the entire cost of the acquisition by way of a new equity investment from shareholder Caledonia Investments. 

The deal followed the sale of 18 Wadworth leased and tenanted pubs​​​ to Red Oak Taverns in August 2019. 

Lib

M&B to close ‘a number of sites’ 

The operator of brands such as All Bar One, Sizzling Pubs and Toby Carvery, Mitchells & Butlers (M&B), announced its intention to close a number of leasehold sites in November.

The Telegraph​​ reported that M&B would be closing 20 sites​, which make up about 1.12% of the pub company’s 1,700-strong estate.

“As announced in September, M&B reopened the vast majority of its estate, approximately 95%, after the first lockdown ended,” a spokesperson for M&B said.

“The remaining sites have been under review on a case-by-case basis since, taking into account factors such as expected footfall and business layout.

“We have taken the difficult decision not to reopen some of these sites and are working with leaseholders on next steps.” 

Revolution CVA approved, six sites to close

As reported by The MA​​ in November,​ Revolution Bars Group had a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) for subsidiary Revolution Bars Limited approved. 

While three quarters (75%) of creditors were needed to approve the arrangement, more than 88% voted in favour of the proposal with in excess of 75% of unconnected creditors following suit.

Revolution Bars Limited then comprised 51 Revolution branded leasehold bars, with six bars closed imminently​ and reduced rental terms agreed on seven other bars which are now subject to turnover-based rents with minimum rental thresholds for the duration of the two-year CVA period. 

The nationwide operator also revealed an update on its financial position alongside the CVA’s approval in which it estimated that its cash flow – before one-off costs implementing the CVA of about £1.1m – will improve over the two-year CVA period by about £4m.

Net bank debt is currently £13.5m compared to current committed bank facilities of £37.2m, which will reduce to £29.3m at the end of March next year and to £28.1m at the end of June 2021. 

Revolution

Portobello Brewery takes over 13 Antic pubs

West-London based brewer and operator, Portobello Brewery, agreed to take over the management of 13 Antic pubs across the capital – growing its stable to 15 sites – after Antic’s financial partners terminated their relationship. 

As reported in November​, the 13 pubs include flagship venue Westow House in Crystal Palace, in addition to venues in Peckham, New Cross, Brixton, Eltham and Sutton.  

A message from Antic, which operated its sites with the backing of Downing Corporate Finance, posted on Brixton bar the Effra Social’s website stated: “I’m afraid that 36 hours before the latest lockdown our long-term financial partners decided to serve notice upon us to terminate our management relationship for those pubs in which they had an interest, including Effra Social, with immediate effect and replace us with Portobello Brewing, and so you may see some changes when you visit post lockdown." 

Ladhar Group acquires 16-site strong Sir John Fitzgerald

North East pub group Sir John Fitzgerald was acquired in a multimillion-pound deal by the Ladhar Group in December​ according to Business Live​​. 

The group, which already operates sites including Pleased To Meet You and the Gunner Tavern in Newcastle, will add Sir John Fitzgerald’s 16 sites including Newcastle pubs the Bodega and the Bacchus to its portfolio, alongside venues in North Tyneside and Northumberland. 

The Ladhar Group was initially built by brothers Amarjit and Baldev Ladhar but is now run by their sons Barry and Michael.

“We are absolutely delighted to own one of the city’s most iconic companies and to be able to keep it in our home city,” Barry Ladhar, director of the group’s Crafted Projects leisure division which will incorporate the new pubs, told Business Live​​.  

“The Fitzgerald family has given so much to Newcastle and we are both thankful and proud to have been entrusted with taking on the pub estate which has built up such a superb and well-deserved reputation.” 

JDW completes £30.4m Dublin development 

As reported by The MA’s ​​ sister title MCA Insight​​, JD Wetherspoon (JDW) made the largest investment in its 41-year history in the development of Keavan’s Port pub and hotel in Dublin in December​. 

The operator completed the Camden Street Upper site in Dublin city centre having invested €33.4m (£30.4m) in its acquisition and development.

The 9,000sq ft site spans two floors and will feature 89 bedrooms alongside a 3,800sq ft garden across two courtyards.

JDW intends to hire 200 full and part-time staff at the pub, which is named after an ancient highway into Dublin of which Camden Street formed a part.

While no official opening date has been set thus far, subject to a license being granted JDW hopes to launch on 15 January 2021.

Keavan’s Port will be managed by Fillip Mordak, who has worked for JDW since 2007 and previously managed two of its sites in Ireland.

“We are delighted to have completed the development of Keavan’s Port,” JDW chief executive John Hutson said.

“We believe that the pub and hotel will be a great asset to Dublin and will hopefully act as a catalyst for other businesses to invest in the city.”

SA Brain ‘up for sale’ 

Welsh brewer and pub group SA Brain was reported to be up for sale in early December,​ recruiting advisers to “navigate this period of uncertainty”. 

The family-owned firm was established in 1882, founded by Samuel Arthur Brain who bought the Old Brewery on St Mary Street Cardiff and the Albert pub with his uncle Joseph Benjamin Brain. The group now has 150 pubs across Wales. 

The Sunday Times​​ reported the pub group and brewer has brought in advisers Evercore to invite investment offers or sale to a trade buyer​.

A statement from the company said: “Given the impact of Covid-19 on the entire hospitality sector, Brains with its advisers Evercore, is working with all stakeholders to navigate through this period of uncertainty.” 

Brain

Deltic bought out of administration by Nordic group Rekom UK

Late-night operator Deltic was taken over by nightlife group Rekom UK for an undisclosed sum in early December​, bringing 42 of the group's 52 bar and club sites out of administration.

Deltic had filed a notice of intention to appoint administrators​​ and had been seeking a rescue deal after announcing its intention to sell in October.

Rekom UK is expected to merge with Rekom Group when Covid-19 restrictions are lifted from the night-time sector and keeping current Deltic CEO Peter Marks in this role as Rekom UK as the merge takes place.

Nordic-based Rekom Group operates more than 130 bars and clubs in Denmark, Finland and Norway and since 2018, has been backed by Danish private equity firm Catacap.

  • To find out more about pubs for sale, lease and tenancy visit our property site​​ 

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