The sale of four pubs within the Ribble Valley Inns group will enable former owner Northcote Leisure Group to concentrate on its ultimate goal of achieving a second Michelin star.
Brunning & Price, the pub division of the Restaurant Group, acquired the properties - the Three Fishes in Mitton and the Clog & Billycock in Pleasington, Lancashire; the Highwayman in Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria; and the Bull at Broughton, North Yorkshire - for an undisclosed sum.
Ribble Valley Inns were originally launched in 2004 by the then joint managing directors of Northcote, Craig Bancroft and Nigel Haworth, eventually growing into a collection of six pubs. The sale of the Nag's Head, near Tarporley, Cheshire, which was marketed for £1m, is close to completion, while the site of the Stag's Head in Great Alderley Edge, Cheshire, which has planning permission for a 14-bedroom extension, is currently on the market for £1.3m.
Bancroft and Haworth were presented with the Catey Award for Pub and Bar Operator of the Year in 2005 for the Three Fishes.
Bancroft, said that while he was sorry to see the food-led pubs go, he said their disposal would enable him to focus on the remaining businesses within the Northcote portfolio: the four-red-AA-star, 26-bedroom Northcote hotel in Langho, Lancashire; Northcote at the Rovers which runs the corporate hospitality at Blackburn Rover's football stadium; and Café Northcote at Blackburn Cathedral.
"We have had a fabulous journey since 2004 when we launched what was then a trail-blazing pub group which was admired and copied by many in the industry," he explained. But in recent years it became harder and more difficult to remain highly profitable in the sector with the expansion of fierce competition.
"We were not looking to sell at this time, but when the approach was made to us, the interest was then consolidated and I realised that the time was now right to let them go. It will enable us to focus on achieving a second Michelin star at Northcote."
The addition of Ribble Valley Inns will take the portfolio of Brunning & Price's pubs up to 66.
Mary Willcock, managing director of Brunning & Price, said: "We have admired Ribble Valley Inns for many years and believe that these well-known and long-established businesses are perfectly positioned geographically for us to enhance our presence in the north of England. As always, we feel that a pub should retain its own personal character and look forward to working with the teams locally to ensure they prosper and thrive in the coming months and years."
Property agent Christie & Co negotiated the deal and said that it is looking for further sites for Brunning & Price between Lancashire and Kent in both rural and urban locations.