This week’s exclusive Diary includes news on Piper’s next target; Inventive’s chances of acquiring some Luminar sites; KFC expanding in China and a parrot that may not be dead
From cocktails to buffets
The £8m investment by private equity group Piper into cocktail bar chain Be At One was definitely a boost to both the deal market and the wet-led sector, now Diary understands that the firm is looking to add a further business to its portfolio. With £99m of its latest fund still burning a hole in its pocket, Piper it seems is the fourth private equity player circling Red Hot World Buffet. Now all it has to do is beat off competition from Bowmark Capital, Lloyds Development Capital and Risk Capital Partners.
Many have placed some of the struggles faced by Luminar at the door of its smaller, more nimble high street competitors, such as Revolution bars and Yates’s. Diary hears that Inventive Leisure, the operator of the Revolution chain, hopes to take advantage of its bigger rivals plight by trying to pick up one or two of its sites. The chain, which is set to be placed on the market next year by private equity backer Alchemy Partners, has already picked up a number of units from other struggling operators over the years and turned them around. But founder Roy Ellis isn’t too confident they will get the chance with Luminar while a number of private equity players circle the majority of the nightclub operator’s estate. He told Diary: “We will definitely have a nibble at the odd site but whether we get an opportunity to bid for them is another thing.”
Three for the price of one
When it comes to alternative uses for pubs, the downturn and the disposal of bottom end pubs has led to many being turned into houses, flats, supermarket car parks and convenience stores. Some have become dentists, others vets and a few fast-food drive thrus. Diary hears that Eurogarages, one of the fastest growing private companies in the UK, is now taking this a step further after acquiring the White Hart in Harlington, near Heathrow. Not only will the soon-to-be developed site get a Burger King, but also a Starbucks and Subway. Diary wonders what the anti-third runway campaigners for whom the White Hart was a regular haunt will make of it all.
Big brother is watching
Soon there will be no escape if you have empty seats or unclean tables, as Google is set to take its Street View device into businesses, including restaurants and hotels. An Australian chocolate shop is one of the first retailers to sign up to the new feature which is an extension of the firm’s Street View technology that already lets users view 360-degree exterior images. Google said the scheme, which is completely voluntary, would help businesses build their online presence and highlight the qualities that make their locations stand out. For those slightly worried about the state of one or two of their sites no need to panic just yet as it has ruled out peeking into big-brand chains for the time being.
Word reaches Diary that Saltire Taverns, which is led by Billy Lowe and operates a handful of leisure properties in Scotland, is looking to convert the Le Monde, its boutique hotel and entertainment complex in Edinburgh, into an exclusive jazz club. All well and good. The only problem we envisage them having is with the name they are planning for the new place, Dirty Martini. There may be a well-known bar in Covent Garden that is in the process of opening a sister site who might like it if they reconsider that title!
Far Eastern promise
For many it is still hard to grasp the sheer size of a country like China, but sometimes figures help, step forward KFC. The Yum! Brands’ owned chain is setting the benchmark for fast food operators opening in the country. The chain opened its first site in China in 1987 it now operates over 3,200 sites in the country. It is opening one new restaurant a day on average, with the goal of eventually operating a 15,000-strong estate in the country. By 2008, Yum! was opening 500 restaurants a year in China, mostly KFCs, against close to 100 in the US. It will take McDonald’s until 2013 to get to 2,000 outlets in China, while Starbucks wants 1,500 outlets by 2015.
Life in the old Parrot yet
Diary is sad to report that the site of the country’s final Rat & Parrot bar in his home town of Crawley, West Sussex, has yet to experience a phoenix-style rebirth. The bar closed nine months ago today, marking an end of an era for the iconic 1990s brand, which has been phased out under its current owner TCG. However, Diary hears a whisper that Bar Sport, the sports bar concept, is looking seriously at securing the high street outlet as part of its national franchise rollout.
Chick lit impresses
When it comes to customer service, it’s the little things you notice, isn’t it? Rummaging through receipts from his recent trip to the Buffalo Trace distillery in the US with Hi Spirits, Diary’s attention was drawn to the statement from his $6.60 bagel breakfast meal - featuring, naturally, “OJ” - at Chick-fil-A. “It was a pleasure serving you,” the receipt said. “Have a wonderful day.” The pleasure was mine.