This week’s exclusive Diary includes Starbucks opening a ‘ski-thru’ site, BrewDog’s James Watts’ culinary ambitions, BBPA not bottling it over beer duty, and a close look at the Manchester Wag bar scene. Paramount poser A number of casual dining chains have done well in picking up sites from the former Paramount Restaurants business, but it seems they may not have got the chance, with it coming to light that advisers Deloitte received an offer for the majority of the estate before it was placed into administration. Tragus, Gondola and Richard Caring have also been linked with acquiring the rump of the struggling business over the last 18 months. However, it seems this potential purchaser withdrew its interest in October, just weeks before the administration process and break up of the group commenced. Ball winner Novus, quite rightly, has been getting a lot of credit for the work it has carried out on a handful of the sites its picked up last year when it acquired the Balls Brothers. Four of the Balls Brothers units have now been revamped as Exchange, and another four are set to get the same treatment. Diary understands that these changes have so far proved lucrative with between 45% and 50% same store growth – average weekly turnover for a Balls Brothers was £16,000 to £17,000 but the Exchange sites are now pulling in £38,000 a week. Taking the piste We’ve all heard of a drive-thru location, but how about a ski-thru location? Step forward coffee chain behemoth Starbucks, which has opened its first ski-in, ski-out store 8,000ft above sea level at Squaw Valley’s Gold Coast complex in California. Customers don’t even need to take off their skis to enjoy their favourite Starbucks drinks. “Nowhere else in the world can skiers enjoy a delicious Starbucks coffee without missing a beat on the slopes,” Squaw Valley president and chief executive Andy Wirth said. Diary believes that’s a pretty safe comment. Gastro pup It’s no secret that BrewDog founder James Watt has been, well, working like a dog recently, overseeing plans to open several new bars across the country and possibly overseas this year, while work on a stonking new £7m ‘eco-brewery’ begins next week. What’s less well known is that the 29 year-old has also found time to pursue culinary ambitions. Last year he bought a restaurant in the centre of Aberdeen called Musa, and, according to The Times, from time to time he will pop in to experiment with some dishes. Perhaps this gastro ambition is seeping into its pubs; the Camden site boasts “fantastic pizzas and burgers, inspired by Masterchef Tim Anderson”. BBPA’s lobbying has a Sting in its tail With the Budget just weeks away, the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has taken inspiration from rock legend Sting for its latest lobbying effort. The trade body is delivering its message to MPs in a special bottle labelled Give Beer a Break, which calls for the duty escalator to be scrapped. “I hope this grabs MPs’ attention,” said Brigid Simmonds, BBPA chief executive. Message in a pint doesn’t have the same ring to it, Diary assumes. Novel approach to beat bingeing How do you solve a problem like binge drinking? Perhaps we could take inspiration from our cousins across the pond. Diary’s not talking about David Cameron’s love of US ‘drunk tanks’ for inebriated drinkers. Authorities in Vancouver, Canada, have reportedly begun piloting a programme whereby heavy drinkers are given free alcohol on an hourly basis between 10.30am and 10.30pm to ween them off excessive consumption. Four months on and the programme has reportedly had beneficial effects, with all eight participants showing an improvement in health. It may seem leftfield, but when compared to ill-judged measures over here such as the late night levy, Diary reckons it’s worth a punt. Our man in the Wag pit In advance of a ‘retail tour’ of Manchester last weekend, Diary came across a Guardian review of Panacea, “Manchester’s favourite celebrity haunt”: The article reveals the true purpose of a visit: “Panacea bears frequent witness to the mating ritual of the wannabe Wag.” They arrive mostly in threes – “if one pulls, then the other two can comfort each other” -and a favourite drink is the Gold Digger cocktail. Diary made his way to Panacea where he was relieved of the contents of his wallet for eye-wateringly expensive drinks in the company of sport-celebrities including Ryan Giggs and Amir Khan, and a host of young ladies in full ‘bag-a-footballer’ mode. “’We save up all week to come down here,’ said Rachel, 20, in the Guardian. It’ll be a couple of months before Diary can afford to hit the streets of Castlefields, Deansgate and Spinningfields again.