Anglian Country Inns is forecasting a “very good year” and hopes to be able to pay off its debts towards the end of this year, or early next, before returning to growth mode.

The premium gastropub operator secured a lending facility with Cynergy going into the pandemic, and in May 2020 secured £3.3m under the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS).

Managing director James Nye told MCA the loans had simplified the family-run company’s lending covenants, and put it in a good position to survive periods of prolonged closure.

He said: “It was a pretty critical part of us moving forward. It puts us in a much stronger position once we rebound the business.

“Based on our forecasts, somewhere between September and March next year, we should have made enough surplus cash to repay our CBILS loan, flip the survival capital into growth capital, which puts us in a nice position to go back out and look into to expand again.”

Having survived the pandemic, he said ACI is well positioned to prosper, with good outside spaces and premium pub food.

Nye said: “We’ll capture a lot of the pent-up celebrations. It’s going to be a good year with a huge amount of demand, potentially limited supply.”

Despite few pubs being on the market, Nye expects opportunities to arise.

He added: “It’s going to be a tough market out there. Anyone with good pubs is going to be holding on to them.

“Once the rent moratorium ends, that’s going to prompt a bit of bloodshed and I think there’s be some casualties out there.

“You see a lot of private equity circling the industry. There’s an abundance of cash waiting to come into the market, which is keeping the prices quite buoyant and means supply is actually going to be quite limited.

“But if you’re know what you’re looking for, and building relationships with the right people, you can probably get some good access to deals that might not have been able to happen in the past.”

Nye was speaking after the release of ACI’s financial accounts for the full year to April 2020.

During the year, sales reduced by £400,000 (3%) as a result of the lockdown in March, and a change in operating model at Water Lane.

Turnover was £11.2m and EBITDA was £1.7m.