This week’s exclusive Diary includes ex-Punch man Fawcett looking for a job; JDW trying again at Lymington; and the impact of Groupon. Bigdog for hire Diary likes to do its bit by trying to help operators cut down on the fees they pay expensive headhunters once in a while. In this spirit, there’s a “bigdog” looking for a job. Former head of Punch leased Adrian Fawcett has left his perch as chief executive officer of General Healthcare Group, the biggest private healthcare provider in the UK, after four years. For those who are worried that he might be a bit rusty in terms of leisure sector experience, we should mention that he served as chairman of the private equity funded Realpubs prior to its sale to Greene King for £53m last month. Cambridge is the place to be Could humble 14-16 Benet Street in Cambridge be the most fought after site outside London? The developer Wrenbridge, agreed to acquire the 25,000sq ft earlier this year for a sum believed to be slightly short of £5m. Names such as Brasserie Blanc, Busaba Eathai, and pretty much the whole of Gondola Holdings’ stable have been mentioned as possible operators at the unit. Diary even hears that Jamie’s Italian, which has a site nearby, previously looked at the site for a possible hotel opening. Italian revolution A plan to revolutionise the Italian restaurant scene has emerged from a rather unusual source - a group of MBA students at the Cranfield School of Management. Their new concept in Italian dining has won the 19th European Business Plan of the Year Competition (EBPYC). The Cranfield team wants to launch a new chain of restaurants that will revolutionise the way Italian food is presented and consumed; with small, healthy, high quality, fresh versions of a number of favourite Italian dishes available for diners through a ground-breaking operational model. The restaurants, branded ‘Filici’ (meaning ‘happy’ in Sicilian), would offer customers a fun and flavoursome experience of Sicily in the UK. Watch out, Pizza Express. JDW tries again in Lymington You can’t fault JD Wetherspoon for lack of perseverance. Snooty Lymington in the New Forest has already sent the discount retailer packing over a plan to convert a shop. Now it has submitted a second application to convert a shop next door to the historic St Thomas’s Church. Town councillors are urging New Forest District Council to reject the scheme. Wetherspoon has defended the scheme in a 38-page statement accompanying its application. The statement says: “The company is sensitive to the needs of neighbouring residents and occupiers of adjoining premises and is therefore happy to accept and adhere to reasonable restrictions and limitations.” The operative word is reasonable, Lymington. Lion replaces Zulu Diary remembers travelling to deepest, darkest Leytonstone a few years back to meet up with Punch leased bosses. They were keen to show us a funky South African-themed bar, called Zulus, that was tearing up trees. It seemed a little, er, niche to have legs. Diary is happy to report that fast-growing London operator Antic has taken on the pub (empty for a year now) - and will re-open it today as, er, the Red Lion. Boss Anthony Thomas says: “It’s quite horrifying the condition that the building was in when we started work, but we’ve made a real effort to preserve its features like repairing its historic ceiling.” Hurrah - another one saved. Defending Groupon There’s no doubt that there is the stirrings of a backlash against Groupon, the discount system that promises to fill restaurants with new customers. During Diary’s recent visit to Chicago for the National Restaurant Association show, food restaurant bosses were a little ambivalent on account of the sheer size of the Groupon cut of business generated. But we were interested in the experience of Baltimore restaurateur Gino Cardinale: “I hired a young new chef and spent one million dollars renovating my fifteen year venue in 2009. The project was completed that June and instantly met with rave reviews. Problem was our sales were barely up 15% by the end of the year. A horrible winter didn’t much help the first quarter of 2010. Enter Groupon. They were just getting going in Baltimore and approached us after receiving a great response from another newish restaurant in town, Blue Hill Tavern. Knowing full well that once people heard of us they would love us we figured we had little to lose. We sold just under 700 Groupons. We were paid one-third of the face value less 2.5% to cover credit card processing fees incurred by Groupon. Over the course of the next 90 days we were steady-to-busy every night. In 2010 my annual sales over the prior year were up 40%. Groupon taught me something most restaurants never learn - you have to get your name out there.” Hickman's shades of opinion on Enterprise Highly-rated Peel Hunt analyst Paul Hickman has spotted a slight divergence in the share price performance of Punch Taverns and Enterprise Inns. He notes this week: “Punch Taverns (Hold, Target Price 75p) gained 5% on its upbeat Quarter Three (statement), while Enterprise Inns (Hold, Targe Price 84p) fell by the same amount, as the market continues to lose patience with its slow progress, leaving the shares 20% down on the month and 36% down year-to-date.” And Diary has spotted a slight divergence between this view and a slightly earlier one: “(Ted) Tuppen is an industry icon, whose measured approach to the post credit crunch environment has many adherents.”