Portobello Pub Company looks to its latest acquisition, Darwin & Wallace, as highly complementary to its existing estate.

Chairman Mark Crowther tells MCA the enlarged group is already taking advantage of opportunities to share learnings and implement efficiencies.

Portobello Pubs acquired Darwin & Wallace last week, bringing the Mel Marriott-founded bar group’s seven sites under its umbrella. Crowther served as chairman for both businesses, having been appointed to Darwin & Wallace in October 2023.

“Darwin & Wallace is a fantastic business built by Mel over the last 10+ years,” he says. “As chairman, I knew the business particularly well and was aware the shareholders were interested in an exit, so the timing was right.

“The geography is complementary. Darwin & Wallace has prime locations in wealthy London villages, their venues have a similar food and drink split, they’re high volume.

“We also share customers between the two.”

Portobello’s existing estate is primarily in London, with a few sites in Brighton, offering synergies between the two.

Darwin & Wallace_Interior 2

Darwin & Wallace

In its most recent accounts on Companies House, Darwin & Wallace reported the outlook “continues to be challenging.” Sales were up 1.8% to £17.8m in FY23, but conversion and profitability were “materially eroded” due to soaring input and labour costs, the business said.

“The issue hasn’t been sales, it’s been costs really,” Crowther explains. “We had the same issues around tube strikes and general consumer demand with the cost of living crisis.

“Some immediate cost savings have already been gained from putting the two businesses together, and we’ve already started engaging with suppliers to harmonise supply.”

As for future acquisitions, the Portobello Pub Company will remain selective but consider both individual sites and packages. London and the Southeast will remain the geographical focus.

“That works better operationally rather than being spread across the UK.

“We bought the freehold from Wetherspoon by Clapham Junction recently, so we’re still doing individual acquisitions.”

There will be “an element of consolidation” going forwards across the wider pub and bar sector, Crowther says, for “stability and savings” amid the rising costs of doing business.

The majority of the team at Darwin & Wallace will join the wider group and are “excited to work in the bigger combined business,” he adds.

Marriott, who founded the business in 2012, will step down from day-to-day operations, with the group to be led by Richard Stringer, MD for Portobello Pub Company.