Fine & Country Inns, the new venture headed by Gary Hunt, previously chief operating officer of nightclub group G4 Leisure (formerly Brook Leisure), hopes to expand by one or two sites per year for the foreseeable future, M&C Report has learnt.

The group has secured its first site, the Strafford Arms in Stainborough, a Punch Taverns leasehold. Around £500,000 will be invested in the outlet before it re-opens in May.

Hunt told M&C Report: “We are looking at doing two to three per annum for the foreseeable future, then we’ll probably scale that up if it’s financially and commercially possible.”

Country pubs in Yorkshire will be sought predominantly, he said. “We’ve got two or three already in mind that we’ve reviewed, and we’re putting budgets together at the moment for the next phase.”

Regarding tenure, Hunt said: “Ideally we’d prefer freeholds if we can acquire them, but it’s easier to do a deal with a pubco at the moment because they’ve got a lot on their books.”

G4 Leisure was formed in 1993 and operates in towns across northern England. At its peak it ran 21 sites and had an annual turnover of more than £25m. It currently operates nine units and has a turnover of c£6m, said Hunt, who left the company in December.

“During the recession the nightclub sector in northern working class towns was hit disproportionately hard and I see it being a very long hard recovery,” he said. ”I therefore see stronger and more lucrative opportunities in the country inn and restaurant market. We are targeting a more affluent customer profile and we are not having to compete on the high street late into the evening.”   

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