Southern-based multiple operator S.I Leisure is looking to double its estate to 10 pubs by the end of next year.

The pub company, run by Ian Ellis and Sefa Memetovic, has just taken on its second pub with Star Pubs & Bars – The Fox in Steventon, Oxfordshire – taking its total estate to five.

Ellis told MCA the company had a “£5m war chest” to buy some freeholds, which is what its next steps will be.

“We are actively looking and have made offers on two other pubs currently,” said Ellis. “We are going to be quite aggressive. We want to expand as quickly as possible, but we want to do it organically,” he said.

Ellis added that he and Memeotovic had already put in a huge sum of money into building the pub company estate up to what it is now, and so they wants sites that deliver a certain bottom line, “so that we can roll them out as managed house estates”.

The company, which is achieving +5% growth in like-for-like sales in the year to date, specialises in “destinational A-road, market town and town pubs with rooms, and gardens in particular”, which fit with its business model of gastro pubs with en-suite luxury rooms.

In terms of location, he said the business was looking from Cardiff, to all the way up the M4 corridor as far as the M40, and they specifically target areas where there is either no gastro pub, or one not of great quality in the vicinity.

Ellis said that while he believes there are more properties coming to market, he said he is often “gobsmacked” by the valuations of properties sometimes, which he said sometime “clearly more than the business is worth”.

Work is due to start on a joint £280k refurbishment of The Fox, next week, with the site due to open on 1 December.

A new modern bar and commercial kitchen are being installed and the dining capacity is being increased by a third, including the addition of a heated covered terrace, while the pub’s six letting rooms will be turned into premium accommodation with en-suite bathrooms.

Ellis added: “The Fox will be the only gastro food pub in the immediate area to have dishes made from fresh locally sourced ingredients and to offer premium quality rooms. There is a real demand in the area for this calibre of offer, both from businesses and the families and young professionals living nearby.”

Neil Convery, regional operations director at Star Pubs & Bars, said: “The Fox is in a great village location close to the Milton Park Business Park, the A34 and to Didcot and so will benefit from the regeneration of the town currently underway.”

S.I Leisure also operates The Bear Hotel through Chippenham, through Star Pubs & Bars.