5 New Sites Secured for Brasserie Blanc

16th March 2015

Brasserie Blanc secures pipeline of five sites for pub concept, praises tenanted pub company landlords, warns on high street unsustainbility: Brasserie Bar Co pub arm White Brasserie Co’s five pubs are now averaging more than £30,000 per week in sales – and there are now five sites in the pipeline, chief executive Mark Derry has told the Propel Multi Club Conference. Of the move into running pubs, he said: “We saw an opportunity to leverage our restaurant skills to develop a second business in premium food pubs and this now forms the second string to our bow.” The company plans to have 20 to 30 pubs over the next four to five years. The premium pubs, which have a 50:50 wet to dry ratio, have the same menu as Brasserie Blanc. Moving into the pub market has helped the company move away from “the cluttered high street”, explained Derry. They have also managed to negotiate some long free-of-tie pub leases, he said. “It seemed the opportunities on the pub property front offered great potential for a business like ours. The high street in many towns has become more congested – I’m thinking of places like Winchester where four new restaurants opened last month. We have found pub companies to be very easy to deal with so far. There is quite a lot of dissatisfaction in the pub industry with the major landlords. But I can tell you our experience with landlords has been excellent – we have five sites and five more sites in the pipeline. Landlords have been extremely easy to deal with. When you compare it to dealing with extremely serious landlords, frankly, they are easy to talk to. I think in the pub industry, had people spent time dealing with Land Securities and other such operators they may have a slightly different attitude. The fundamental thing is that when you get away from the cluttered high street, it is difficult to set rents because: what is market rent in a village? If you are a slightly bigger operator like us, I think you’ll find that if you can get the volume – then the rents don’t seem to be particularly expensive. Our rent roll in our pub estate is probably six or seven per cent of turnover – so not extraordinary. We managed to negotiate long free-of-tie leases on the basis of investing our capital – but that’s what we’re doing elsewhere so it’s not anything new to us. There are also extraordinary attitude and expectation differences in pubs versus restaurants. When you run a business with Raymond Blanc as the figurehead, from day one you are having to control the numbers coming in. But the expectation is enormous. The comparison with the Manoir and its two Michelin stars is frequently drawn – and that’s not one we’re ever going to win. With pubs we run exactly the same menu and pricing outside of London. Our customers are genuinely impressed and so relaxed – and, at our pub site in Teddington, for example, we haven’t had a written complaint in two years. That whole area of expectation makes pubs a really terrific business to be involved in and run.” Derry also said that the current landscape of five or so restaurant brands arriving in county towns with populations of circa 70,000 is new ground for the sector – a “very cluttered high street that I suspect is only going to get more cluttered. They are not sustainable, these things”. More generally, he said: “We are very French and we’re trying to leverage our founder Raymond Blanc’s skill base and develop the idea of the family of Blanc. We have 200 chefs working in a business with 25 outlets. So we’ve got a very high skill base and we‘re trying to highlight the fact that, amongst all the operators out there we really are doing everything from scratch – even our own stocks and pickles – when customers think, to be frank, everybody does that. The concept of de-skilling is not something we recognise – we genuinely believe that cooking is a skill.” Alongside this, a full refurbishment of the 20 Brasserie Blanc sites will be completed by September this year, with seven already completed. “Those that have been refurbished have all seen sales growth,” Derry said. “They have a more relaxed atmosphere now and we are attracting younger customers. Older customers can be quite cruel – they are pretty vociferous in explaining they don’t like the changes. But we’re really excited about moving Brasserie Blanc moving forward – the business is genuinely reinvigorated. We believe we have an advantage over new entrants – we already have the best site in town. More generally, we’re setting a new course in a changing market.”


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