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Michels plans £1b hotel fund – For more hospitality stories, see what the weekend papers say

22 May 2006

Ex-Hilton boss plans £1b hotel real estate fund
David Michels, the former chief executive of Hilton Group, is believed to have talked to 10 City institutions about raising a fund of up to £1b to invest in European hotels which would eventually be floated on the Alternative Investment Market. Michels, who recently oversaw the £3.2b sale of Hilton InternationalThe Financial Times and The Times, 20 May

GI Partners buys restaurants from Noble House Leisure for £20m
US private equity firm GI Partners has bought a clutch of restaurants from Noble House Leisure, the 20-strong pub and restaurant firm established by Robert Breare in 2000, for around £20m. The line-up includes Oriental eateries Sri Thai and Pacific Oriental and the Jim Thompson's and Yellow River Café brands. Breare has retained 10 Abuckles US-style diners and remains chairman of gastro-pub operator Merchant Inns. - The Times, 20 May

Punch Taverns puts 35 gastro-pubs on the market
Punch Taverns is believed to have put around 35 gastro-pubs on the market for £40m, including the Lots Road Pub & Dining Room in Chelsea and the historic Rogano seafood restaurant in Glasgow. The package is on top of 290 former Spirit pubs that Punch is selling for £500m, which has attracted interest from GI Partners, Wolverhampton & Dudley, Robert Tchenguiz and Alchemy Partners. The group's interim results today are expected to outline its plans for the remaining 700 Spirit pubs not earmarked for sale or conversion to tenanted venues. - The Times, 20 May

Illegal cleaners had worked for immigration office for up to three years
Five Nigerian cleaners arrested on Wednesday as illegal immigrants when they turned up to work at a London office of the Immigration and National Directorate have already worked in other parts of the service, one for up to three years. The claims were made by their employer, Techclean of Surrey, which believes forged documents may have been involved in one case. The Government has admitted that three million National Insurance numbers are issued to foreigners with few checks carried out. - The Times, 20 May

Wine sales flatten in the UK
Sales of wine have slipped in the UK after 25 years of growth, according to research from market analyst AC Nielsen to be published this week. In the first 16 weeks of 2006, Britons quaffed 303 million bottles of wine, down from 313 million in the corresponding period of 2005. That represents a fall of 1.5%, or five million bottles, in contrast to the forecasted rise of between 2% to 3% in the first quarter of this year.
AC Nielsen puts the blame on rising fuel prices and consumer debt and suggests Britain may have reached a ceiling of 92 million cases of wine a year. - Scotland on Sunday, 21 May

McDonald's to refocus on burgers
McDonald's hopes to pep up flat UK sales with a "back-to-burgers" relaunch after fewer than 10% of its customers warmed to the healthier pasta, fresh fruit and salad options it has introduced over the past three years. It will unveil a giant burger - 40% bigger than a Big Mac - next month followed by more products over the summer offering "a twist on existing burgers". It is following the US, where a refocus on cheap burgers has boosted sales by 30% in the past two years. UK health campaigners fear the move will undermine Government attempts to promote healthier eating among children and low-income groups. - The Times, 21 May

Benjys accused of misleading franchisees Sandwich chain Benjys faces allegations from its former franchise director Andrew Quail that it has been "dishonest" and "unethical" with its franchisees. In an internal memo from 2004, Quail (now head of business services for British Franchise Association) expressed concerns that Benjys was failing to give franchisees sufficient information about businesses for sale and was glossing over problems with sites. Benjys - whose 68 stores and 116 delivery vans lost £3m in the past year - has issued writs against a number of franchisees for breach of agreements. Franchisees have formed groups to launch counter-claims related to aggressive sales tactics and the cost of goods delivered. - Mail on Sunday, 21 May

By Angela Frewin

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