This week’s Diary includes BrewDog’s dogged expansion, Barber giving more fundraising details, Domino’s going voice-activated, and where next for the Strada estate?

 

Single site scramble

While the futures of Café Rouge and Bella Italia will become clearer on Friday, the next stage in the life span of Strada is a little less clear, although the chances of a pre-pack administration process leaving Apollo with the rump of the estate are thought to have increased, despite tentative interest from a couple of parties - including Prezzo - in the core business. Rival operators continue to pick off single sites, with Carluccio’s thought to be close to picking up the Strada in Oxford and Prezzo the one in Newcastle, to name two. Diary understands that fresh from securing new investment from Fuller’s, The Stable, the craft cider and pizza concept, has also thrown its hat into the ring on a couple of units. As with the break up of Paramount Restaurant before it, Tragus’ loss is definitely proving to be several others’ gain.

 

It’s good to talk

As the deadline for landlords and creditors of Tragus to vote on CVA proposals for the company approaches (20 June), Diary hears of rumours that talks with some landlords are not progressing as smoothly as hoped. It is understood that one high-profile landlord with an interest in up to 20 sites in the process is looking to retain up to three quarters, while another has been reticent in even entering discussions regarding the CVA. Tragus is hoping to exit up to 50 sites under the process, but it is thought that landlords could be interested in retaining a similar number. Should be an interesting day on Friday.

  

Barber’s brand’s appeal

As revealed by M&C Report at the start of the month, Jamie Barber, CEO of Brazilian barbecue group Cabana and the award winning Hush Brasseries, recently completed a £5m equity raise to fund the expansion of both brands. Barber has now confirmed that £2m was raised for Hush, and £3m for Cabana from shareholders including Saracens owner Nigel Wary, French Connection founder Stephen Marks and Zoopla and Lovefilm founder Alex Chesterman. Together with a debt facility from its bankers HSBC, Barber said: “We have a significant war chest to be used to expand both brands. Brazil is certainly flavour of the month, and our brasseries are performing strongly. Our combined turnover is knocking on the door of £20m, and we feel that the climate is right for us to push forward with both brands.”

 

Novus Forges ahead

Novus Leisure has continued with its £20m, two-year estate refurbishment programme with the transformation of the Abacus in the City into a concept called Forge. The company said Forge is “like nothing Novus has ever produced” before, “bringing the ferocity of The Wolf of Wall Street together with the industrial revolution of the American railroads”. The meat-heavy menu includes cuts from “the pit” and cuts from “the spit” featuring “exotic condiments, rustic sides and bar jars and desserts to die for”. The decor features stripped back brickwork and leather booths, and there’s an artisan cocktail and craft beer list. The site reopens in early July. It follows the recent reopening of Novus’ Shadow Lounge as Core. Diary wonders what’s next on the operator’s list.

 

How much?

Diary’s jaw had to be prised from the lino this morning after hearing that Spirit Pub Company had sold a west London pub for the gargantuan sum of £27m. The Black Lion in Bayswater Road, which had a book value of £7.6m, generated EBITDA before central overhead costs of £0.7m in the 12 months to 17 August 2013. Diary calculates that amounts to a 39x multiple of EBITDA. Could this be a record for the pub trade? If you know of a better one, do let us know by emailing john.harrington@wrbm.com.

 

Cottage quota

You wait an age for a mini-bond crowdfunding scheme to come along and if by magic, two aimed at the sector arrive within days of each other. And for those who like to be updated on a daily basis on their progress, Diary can tell you that the River Cottage Canteen has already reached its £1m investment target in the space of a fortnight with 284 investors now backing the company as it looks to grow from three sites this year to seven by 2018. At the same time, Chilango’s fundraising has reached £587,500 (as of 3pm today), with 170 investors on board.

 

Thumbs down

How far can technology go in terms of ordering food online and human evolution? Quite a bit, according to Domino’s Pizza chief executive Patrick Doyle. The company has just introduced a voice ordering capability for its iPhone and Android mobile apps. Users can apparently expect a platform that delivers a human-like, conversational customer service experience that allows users to speak an order and quickly add items to their cart. On the back of the launch, Doyle said he believed that there will be a day when “typing on keyboards or with thumbs on mobile devices will come to a close”. “We want to be the ones who continue to advance the technology experience – hand-in-hand with our customers,” he explained. “Our mobile app users who are a part of this launch are truly helping set the foundation for the innovations of today, that will soon enough become the standards of tomorrow.”

 

Put a cape in it

Stonegate Pub Company has invested c£300k in converting the Cape site, a former Barracuda/Bramwell unit, in Wood Street, the City of London, to its fast-growing Slug & Lettuce brand. Launched in 2007 by then Barracuda chief executive Mark McQuater, the South African-influenced format at one point grew to seven sites. The conversion of the Wood Street site now just leaves the original Cape in Nottingham, a £500k investment by Barracuda at the time, as the last reminder of the brand.

 

All tied up

Diary has sympathy for tied tenants who have strong views about pub companies, and welcomes their contribution to the debate about the tied model. It was therefore good to see some at the Tenanted Pub Company Summit last week. However, Diary was slightly put out that one attendee chose to bend the truth a little when she tweeted that the tenants were “put at the back” of the room and complained about a lack of Q&A. For what it’s worth: nobody told them where to sit, and anyone was free to ask whatever question they liked after the speakers. Diary wonders if this approach to “the truth” has damaged the tenants’ cause during the statutory code consultation.

 

Knowledge is power

Politicians in general came in for a bit of slating during the Tenanted Pub Company Summit for having a “limited knowledge” about the things they talk about. To be fair to him, Adrian Bailey MP, who chairs the Parliamentary committee that has been highly critical of pubcos, partially agreed. Bailey recalled a time when, as a new MP, he was made to talk in the Commons about upcoming tobacco legislation that he was only informed about by a party whip moments earlier. But Bailey was adamant that this level of ignorance did not extend to the pubco/tenant debate. “I would state that on the issues that are about to be legislated on, this is absolutely not the case,” he insisted.

 

Losing your senses before your phone?

It is not surprising to read that Facebook has the third largest global population behind China and India, but Diary did raise an eyebrow to learn at the 02 Leisure Tech Expo that more people own a mobile device than a toothbrush and 53% of Millennials would rather lose their sense of smell than technology. This sensory choice may not bode well for restaurant diners, but may well be a sign of things to come.