Oakman Inns & Restaurants, the Hertfordshire-based operator headed by former Whitbread executive Peter Borg-Neal, plans to grow by two or three sites per year as it looks to hold formal discussions with private equity firms about investing in the business. It comes as Oakman secures its sixth site, the Crown and Thistle in Abingdon, a former Berni Inns that has been bought from a private vendor for £1.6m and is to re-open in January after a £1.4m refurbishment. “We are also in advanced discussion regarding a couple more sites and hope to be able to make further announcements shortly,” Borg Neal said. He told M&C Report: “We’ve had a few informal discussions [with private equity] and we’re looking to formalise them and see how we go.” Borg-Neal said banks are “very hard” to work with at the moment and private equity has become the best choice for investment. On Oakman’s expansion plans, Borg-Neal added: “Our strategy is to move at two or three sites a year and to adjust that depending on the availability of good sites.” He said the “most common mistake” among operators is to “grow too quickly” and end up with weaker outlets. Oakman would only target “really good sites”, Borg-Neal said. He added: “We also all need to be wary of macro economic factors. We could be in recovery next year or plunging deeper into recession.” Meanwhile, Oakman said it planned to sell its stake in the British Larder, the gourmet pub in Suffolk. Borg-Neal said the firm needs people that are “properly focused on the British Larder and with the expansion of Oakman Inns this is becoming hard for us”. “Furthermore, we need to focus our cash on growing the core business and The British Larder needs, and deserves, expansion capital.” Oakman said it has had an “excellent start to the new financial year”, with like-for-like sales in the 18 weeks to 5 August up 21.52%. The Comparable (un-invested) estate achieved growth of 5.26%. Average sales per outlet of the five core Oakman sites averaged just under £31k net for the period in question. Borg-Neal said: “We’re delighted with our performance in the first part of the year which is clearly well ahead of the market. It is a reward for the tremendous passion and hard work of our people. Trading conditions will remain difficult and we will look to constantly evolve our ability to please our customers.”