M&C Report exclusively previews all the latest City & Business gossip from M&C group editor Paul Charity's City and Business Diary. First Browns appears after eight-year hiatus Mitchells & Butlers opened the first Browns in eight years at its Athenaeum pub in Manchester at the end of last month. But it took a fire to sidestep the usual bonkers red tape. A blaze in December caused £250,000 worth of damage, but meant M&B was allowed to restore the ornate ceilings and marble pillars inside the Grade-II listed building. Browns brand manager Paul Hulyer reports: “Because the building is listed we weren’t initially allowed to restore the ceiling or the pillars, despite them having quite heavy nicotine staining from all the years of smoking in here. “There was substantial smoke damage, which meant we were able to clean them up after all.” Those bureaucrats move in baffling ways. Customers start to warm to Roast Inn Carvery? How hard can it be to get it right? Senior sources at Punch Taverns admit their new Roast Inn carvery concept, launched in 2009, got off to a rocky start in Rotherham, which is in the grip of, er, harsh economic headwinds. Diary hears, though, that the concept has now clicked at two sites including the original Rotherham venue. Interestingly, a flex up of price by a pound to £5.99 has also seen no adverse customer reaction. Now a third site is planned (Punch thinks it might have 60 locations suitable for Roast Inn), but slightly further south than the challenging part of the country known as “The North”. Just the facts at Taylor Walker tour Inky old hacks were treated to a tour of four Taylor Walker pubs - Punch’s badge of quality for 92 historic pubs in London and 14 elsewhere - last Thursday on a double-decker bus. Among a mini-blizzard of mind-boggling facts, Punch reports that the best-selling dish is fish & chips. The 106 sites sell 10,000 portions a week, which equates to 779 tonnes a year, the equivalent weight of 130 African elephants. And 50,000 pints of real ale are served each week - enough to fill 11,000 bath tubs in a year. More generally, marketing boss Clive Briscoe reports “strong sales growth” at the 106 site in the wake of the re-badging. Brook cuts estate There having a torrid time in the nightclub sector, of that there is doubt. Brook Leisure has seven sites on the market through Fleurets. Accounts filed at Companies House at the end of last month show the company closed one site in the year to 30 April 2010 and has closed five venues since “with no plan to re-open them in the foreseeable future” - industry veteran Peter Marks retired as a director on 30 September. Good to report, though, that it managed a pre-tax profit of £519,297 on sales of £15.7m in its most recent year. The previous year it chalked up a pre-tax of £2.4m on a turnover of £18.9m. Oakman site turns heads One of Diary’s favourite ex-Whitbredians, Peter Borg-Neal, boss of Oakman Inns re-opened the King’s Arms, Berkhamsted, where it has a 25-year lease, just before Christmas after a £1.325m investment. Multiple Diary contacts report that it’s a bit of a head-turner to say the least. Sources report takings have already hit in excess of £40,000-a-week. Next on the work schedule is The Marlborough, Whitney, owned freehold, where Oakman plans to spend around £1.4m in a four-month refurbishment starting during the summer. Portman post proves popular Places on the The Independent Complaints Panel of the Portman Group have been advertised for the first time. The workload has become a little light in the past few years as producers reined themselves in - but Diary hears that the posts have attracted no fewer than 80 applicants. REITs back on the agenda? You’ll remember the air that entered a number of companies’ share price in late 2007 as speculation over conversion to tax-efficient Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) status reached fever pitch. A note from Bank of America Merrill Lynch wonders whether “REITs are back on the agenda”. It follows a presentation from Enterprise chief executive to clients in which he is reported to have claimed “they are still on the agenda as things settle down, given the tax benefits they offer”. Merrill Lynch adds: “He (Tuppen) also pointed out to various changes in REIT legislation which could be helpful”. Brewdog doesn't like to brag Controversial brewer Brewdog has won inordinate amounts of, er, voice thanks to a marketing strategy that would have won admiration from the Benneton marketing team at the height of its controversial phase a decade ago. The most recent accounts from Brewdog, break-even on a turnover of £1,781,234 for the year to 31 December 2009, contain a masterful piece of understatement: “Our branding and marketing strategy is working well for us as awareness has really increased and our brand position becomes more entrenched.” Awareness increased? Who’d have thought it? Sentiment to bank on? Here’s a ton of fun. Bank of America Merrill Lynch hosted an investor day towards the end of last month. At the end of day, it gathered investor sentiment through an interactive Q&A tool. Some of these people will be investing our pension funds so Diary, for one, is interested to hear what they think. Which company owns the best tenanted estate? Investors ranked companies as follows: Greene King (57%), Punch Taverns (19%), and Enterprise tied with Marston's (12%). What would be the best buy for Mitchells & Butlers right now? Investors list in descending order was: Restaurant Group (46%), Spirit pubs (33%) and Whitbread pubs (13%). And which company has the most attractive expansion strategy? Bank of America’s investors placed Marston’s first (40% of the vote), followed by JD Wetherspoon (24%), Mitchells & Butlers (21%) with Greene King fourth (15%). Diary is saying nothing more of course.