London-based sports bar operator Sports Bar & Grill is planning to diversify into boutique pubs with rooms having secured its first site for the new format in Tottenham Court Road.
Owner David Evans told M&C Report that he has just exchanged on a 24-year Spirit tied lease for The Mortimer Arms.
He intends to trade the pub “as it is” for the time being before relaunching it as the Mortimer Belle Public House and Hotel in 2013. “If it is successful we’ll look at opening a further four or five Belle-branded pubs and hotels in central London,” said Evans.
Meanwhile, Sports Bar & Grill is eyeing expansion opportunities across the capital. Evans said the company was “down to the last three” operators being considered for unit 1 at London Blackfriars station, which would add to its existing and imminent railway-terminal operations at Victoria, Marylebone, Farringdon and Waterloo.
Evans describes his Blackfriars concept, “which could be up and running within six weeks”, as a take-away and alfresco Sports Bar & Grill, with outdoor heating and 200 seats on the River Thames. “It will be our equivalent of a Sainsbury’s Local or a McDonald’s drivethru,” he added.
Sports Bar & Grill is also exploring the potential for a pop-up bar in partnership with Heineken at Kings Cross to take advantage of this year’s summer events - the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, London Olympics and Euro 2012 Championship. “We’ve just got to work out the effort/reward equation for a 5 month operation, or whether should we concentrate our efforts on sites which will give us something tangible at the end,” said Evans.
Other opportunities being explored for 2013 include bars at London Euston, London Bridge and Canary Wharf, as well as extensions to the sites at Victoria and Marylebone - the latter to involve a potential tie-up with Travelodge.
Evans revealed he is also making enquiries about a first airport site - at Luton airport.
“If all of these opportunities come off, we’ll do all of them,” he said. “To date we’ve grown at a steady pace - one site per year - without much bank debt. But even with these plans we won’t seek private equity.”
Evans says he won’t trade outside of London. “We wouldn’t do Manchester, for example - it’s too far away. I personally aim to visit two sites a day, and I couldn’t get round the estate if we went outside of London. Also, the rents are the same in Manchester, but the price points are lower.”