The deal with Alchemy Partners, which was tied up on Saturday (5 February), has been a long time coming for the business which had appointed advisors pre-pandemic with a view to developing its White Brasserie pub brand.
“Prior to the first lockdown we had decided that we were going to try and market the business in order to get more capital put into it,” said Derry, with the premium end of pub market, in particular, viewed as an opportunity.
While Covid forced the business to pause those plans, it remained close with Alchemy, retaining their interest throughout the pandemic, and can now make use of the “sizeable fund” behind its new owners.
The business was acquired by Alchemy for a sum understood to around the £40m mark, with the private equity firm thought to have mapped out an investment plan which could reach £100m in value over the next five years.
Aside from the capital that can now be used to help Brasserie Bar Co grow the White Brasserie business – with a target of 70 sites over the next five years – Derry said part of the attraction of Alchemy was also the experience it can gain from the other businesses under its wings – namely The Inn Collection Group, “which is a really good and interesting business”.
“[Alchemy] has got a lot of experience with pubs, particularly freehold, and particularly with rooms, and these are areas that we have never been involved in, so I am really quite excited about looking at that opportunity,” he said.
While the group would need to “assimilate some knowledge first”, Derry said it was definitely interested in the potential of opening sites with rooms. “Fundamentally we are going to keep doing food-led pubs, but if opportunities arise why wouldn’t we, given the skills that [Alchemy] has.”
The business had taken its foot off the gas in terms of looking for new sites due to the challenges of the past 24 months but has “picked up the pace” a bit in recent weeks and is actively looking at around half a dozen properties. “The reality is it may take a few months to get the pipeline going but we are very keen to progress it.”
Derry said the business, which also operates 14 Brasserie Blanc restaurants, “has never been in better shape”, with “sales strong given the challenges”.
He said the business had learned a lot over the past few years about what works best for its pubs, in terms of location and design, for example, with the last half a dozen or so openings performing really well. The business is now retrofitting quite a lot of the older sites and bringing them up to the style and quality of the newest.
While its focus is on building the pub estate, Derry said it would not rule out opening more Brasserie Blancs, if it was offered the right opportunity, but it would be very selective about options for further sites.
Back in 2017, the business began to open a few Blancs within Marriott hotels, which Derry described as being an inexpensive way of doing more sites, but the business now has sufficient capital to expand with a significant number of standalone sites, and “would rather be in control of its own destiny”, as with those kind of sites you are in someone else’s hands to a degree, he added.
The team will need strengthening in order to achieve its growth aspirations, but Derry explained that it was going to “take it easy on that front” and would recruit more talent as and when it needed it.
Raymond Blanc, the chef patron of Brasserie Bar Co, will continue his involvement in the business, and sit at the heart of its food offering. “I think he is as excited as the rest of us,” said Derry.