This week’s exclusive Diary includes G1 Group possibly dipping its toe in the coffee market; Canteen rumoured to be the frontrunner for Livebait in Covent Garden; changes at Enterprise Inn’s property division; and St Austell’s expansion plans. Frozen assets Diary has taken a keen interest in the future of frozen food retailer Iceland recently, as it seems the restaurant sector may have a part to play, although indirectly, with its outcome. The company’s founder Malcolm Walker has reportedly bid c.£1.5bn for the business. Walker last year led the consortium that took the Individual Restaurant Company (IRC) private. His bid for Iceland is backed by the Landmark Group, which took Carluccio’s private in 2010. So if Walker is successful can we expect a Carluccio’s/IRC link up in the future? Scottish stirrers After SA Brains’ acquisition of the Coffee#1 chain last year and Costa’s presence in the pub sector gathering pace, Diary hears that Scottish pub and bar operator G1 Group is set to be the latest business to dip its toe into the coffee market. The group, which operates c.45 sites north of the border, has picked up the name Coffee Geeks for its new concept, with an initial site believed to in the offering for later this year. Lively “debait” Much debate has been circling around which operator would be picking up one of the few remaining former Paramount Restaurants sites, and certainly one of the best placed, the Livebait in Covent Garden. Gondola and SBG Restaurants, the new company led by ex-Paramount Restaurants chairman William Rollason, were believed to be in the running, while Coal, the John Gater-led group, is also thought to have had a close look at the site. However, Diary hears that after the success of its six-month pop-up residency in the Market Building, Canteen, the high-quality British food concept, has jumped to the head of the queue for the site, which would become the chain’s fifth in the capital. Changes at Enterprise There’s been a lot going on with Enterprise Inns recently. Earlier this year M&C Report revealed that Ian Ronayne, former operations director at Punch Taverns, joined the rival pubco as a regional managing director as part of a reorganisation of the tenanted and leased company’s operational divisions. Chief operating officer Simon Townsend told Diary this week that the property team also underwent a re-jig at the end of last year. This saw the merger of the property team - responsible for issues such as building maintenance and CAPEX - and the estate team, which looked after areas including valuations. Townsend said the aim was to “take a more holistic view of the assets and the building consideration”. Might help with Enterprise’s disposals too, Diary thinks. A brewer’s lot Life’s not easy for regional brewers these days, what with the huge burden of beer duty and competition from the country’s growing legion of microbrewers. Diary caught up with Charles Dent, chief executive of Yorkshire brewer Timothy Taylor, this week, who, despite confidence in his pub estate and its beer brands, is not especially upbeat. “There’s no denying it, times are tough at the moment,” he said. Pre-tax profits for the firm slipped 10.5% to £2.87m in the year to 30 September 2010, and while he couldn’t comment on the most recent full-year, Dent bemoaned the fact that three major customers, including one unnamed pubco, have chosen not to stock its brands on the grounds, he says, of the price differential against brewers that pay lower duty rates. Still, Dent maintains that the company’s in a “robust position” following the openings of its £11m extension to its brewery operations. Timmy Taylors is also in the market for pubs, should the right site become available. McAustell? One regional brewer with a spring in its step this week is St Austell - the Cornish firm revealed yesterday that it has secured a new £40m refinancing package with Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and Barclays. The company is eyeing expansion of its pubs estate and is keen to further its reach outside the heartland; St Austell is known to be looking at sites in London. But a national presence is probably some way away, as finance director Colin Stratton put it: “I don’t see us trying to invade Scotland.” Uplifting experience Finally, Diary has been spending quite a bit of time, some would say too much, at the Oyster Shed, the impressive new flagship site from Geronimo Inns, which is situated on the ground floor of the headquarters of Japanese bank Nomura in the City of London. The new site comes with one unusual aspect: people have to use a service lift to get to the site’s only toilets, which are in the basement. Although the group is working on a way of putting further loos in the unit, Diary thinks they might have stumbled on a new form of speed dating, as singletons get to know each other while they wait, use and reuse the lift!