JDW’s pub deals and history

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

Strong set-up: JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin
Strong set-up: JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin

Related tags Pubco + head office Property Finance Multi-site pub operators Jd wetherspoon

From unique carpeting at each of its sites to the grandeur and historic locations of some of its pubs, managed operator JD Wetherspoon (JDW) is one of the best-known brands across the UK on-trade.

The company currently operates 861 pubs in UK and Ireland having launched its first in 1979 under the leadership of Tim Martin, and is well-known for serving drinks and food at low prices.

JDW has previously announced it is set to plough about £1bn into open new pubs and giving major upgrades to existing sites in the next 10 years or so. An initial investment of £145m will be spent on 18 new pubs and 57 significant renovations. This will be followed by a further £750m on developing 15 new sites and 50 upgrades per year for a decade.

There are currently about a dozen upgrades taking place now with openings planned for Sheffield, Kings Norton and Dublin before Christmas with Waterford in Ireland set to come online in January 2022.

Its first site was bought from an entrepreneur who had converted it from a bookmaker’s shop, in Colney Hatch Lane, Muswell Hill, north London. For the first month, it was called Martin’s Free House, but was renamed Wetherspoons early in 1980.

Pioneer of non-smoking areas 

JDW continued to open pubs mainly in north London and was a pioneer of introducing non-smoking section in the early ’90s, well ahead of the smoking ban that was introduced in 2007.

Its first airport pub opened, at Heathrow in 1992, in the same year it was floated on the London Stock Exchange and unveiled its 50th site and its 100th just two years later as JDW entered Birmingham for the first time. This was followed by Manchester in 1995 with what was then the largest pub in the UK at circa 10,000sq ft – the Moon Under Water in Deansgate.

Wales and Scotland hosted JDW pubs by 1996 while the business racked up its 200th outlet a year later. In July 1998, the company opened 20 pubs in a single month and, in the same year, the iconic Curry Club meal deal was launched and its first hotel opened too.

Fast forward to 2001, and JDW was recognised as the fastest-growing company in the UK as it opened its 500th unit and was recognised as the ninth fastest-growing company in Europe.

JDW reached 900 sites in 2013, followed by its first openings in Ireland the following year. And in 2016, it had 50 hotels open, offering more than 1,000 rooms.

Sunday roasts at JDW became a thing of the past in 2016​ when the pubco decided it had to “make decisions that are right for the company". It also sold a package of 11 pubs to Hawthorn Leisure​, which was Hawthorn’s fourth acquisition since it was founded in 2014.

‘UK will thrive as independent country’

Shortly before the EU referendum in 2016, chairman Tim Martin gave his opinion to The Morning Advertiser​, stating the case for why leaving the EU would be in the UK’s best interests​ and later printed beermats​ to stress his feelings that were used at sites before the population went to the polls. JDW also opted to dispose of 33 pubs​ around this time, located mainly in the south of England. Leading the celebrations as the ‘Leave’ vote narrowly beat ‘Remain’​ on the decision to exit the EU, Martin said “the UK will thrive as an independent country”. Stonegate took on a 10-strong package of JDW pubs​ in September 2016 while the company began work on a £4.5m investment at a site​ in Ramsgate, Kent.

In 2017, JDW introduced a new order and pay app​ to allow anyone within its pubs to order food and drinks directly to their table. While Dublin was the focus for the group as it announced a £15m war chest to build a new pub and hotel for its biggest investment so far​.

In April 2018, the company shut down all of its social media accounts​, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, citing the “current bad publicity surrounding social media, including the trolling of MPs and others” as a major factor behind the move.

A proposal to open 10 new pubs​ was reported at the start of 2019 with some £56m being pumped into new freehold acquisitions. But two months later, JDW put 16 sites on the market​, and in April opened a £1.3m bar at Stansted Airport​. However, it announced it was not likely to make any more purchases​ in the calendar year in June 2019 yet promised to launch a £200m spending spree​ for the next four years and announced an £80m boost at the start of 2020​.

As most mergers and acquisitions talk was subdued naturally during coronavirus, JDW said it would begin development on two new pubs in September 2020​, which would cost £6.6m. The news was followed in March this year that JDW was to start work on a new site in Leeds​ at a cost of £1.8m that would create 60 jobs.

Reiterating a vow for a massive investment, in late March JDW planned to use £895m to build and renovate a total of 168 sites​. In June, Martin claimed most businesses would support a visa system to employ EU workers​ and a month later, the business appointed agents to sell seven sites​. It finally opened Keavan’s Port in Dublin​ after a mammoth investment of £28m in August this year.

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