Charles Wells chief executive Justin Philllimore has told MCA that the new joint venture between his group and Little Gems Country Dining will look to grow through acquisitions from the middle of next year.

The collaboration, which was revealed yesterday, will see Charles Wells take a stake in Little Gems, which is led by Steve Wilkins and Rachel Slater. The deal brings together Charles Wells’ currently three-strong Apostrophe managed pubs estate and four of five Little Gems estate. MCA understands that the Chequers in Houghton Conquest, Bedfordshire, is being marketed for sale.

Charles Wells already has two openings lined up for the first part of 2018 - The Bull in Olney, Buckinghamshire and the Old Cock in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, but Phillimore said beyond this the strategy was to find new sites.

He said while there may be limited opportunities for conversions from the tenanted estate, the bulk of the growth was likely to come from acquisitions.

The move sees Craig Mayes, who has headed up the group’s managed expansion, concentrate on the growth of Pizza, Pots & Pints.

Phillimore also said he thought it was likely this joint venture would be a one-off but that he would not rule out further partnerships if the right opportunity presented itself.

He said: “We have been talking to Steve and Rachel for a long time and have a huge amount of respect for what they do. We felt that we could benefit from a lot of the knowledge that they have, particularly on the food side of things.

“We have two key projects for the first part of next year but following that our sights are on new opportunities. There may be some opportunities within our current estate but we are very keen to ensure that we retain that strength in depth for the multiple operators we already work with and those we would like to attract going forward.”