Mitchells & Butlers’ plan to expand key brands has taken a further step forward, writes Paul Charity.

The managed operator has bought an under-performing Chef & Brewer site, the Red Lion, in Handcross, West Sussex, from Punch Taverns.

It is currently being converted into a Project Orange gastro venue — the 50-site project it co-runs with entrepreneurs Paul Salisbury and Paul Hales — and opens early December.

The move is interesting because M&B has eyed the Chef & Brewer estate for a number of years, believing it could achieve better performance from the estate by converting it to its own brands.

THe Handcross Chef & Brewer is five miles south of Crawley and is a site from the bottom-end of the brand - so a tough test for M&B. “It’s a one-off acquisition,” a source says.