ALE February 1999 No. 293

Company Profile No. 14 - Inn Business

Back in the mid-80s, Whitbread had a substantial estate of pubs: 54 in the Cambridge CAMRA Branch area. The "Beer Orders" of 1989, which limited the number of pubs which the big brewers could own outright, led to many of these pubs being sold off. Some went to the free trade, Everards picked up three, Charles Wells took one and three just closed. The biggest single buyer at this "yard sale" was a Buckingham-based pub company called Inn Business.

Because not all pub-chain-owned pubs are badged up by the company, it isn't always easy to tell who owns what. We know of seven ex-Whitbread pubs locally which are now with Inn Business: The Carpenters Arms, The Flying Pig, The Town & Gown, and The Rosemary Branch (Cambridge); The Rose & Crown, Teversham, The Star, Melbourn and The White Horse, Foxton. There may be others.

Inn Business is in many ways a typical pub company. It started small but has quite quickly expanded its estate to about 500 pubs. Some of these acquisitions have come from the big boys - 14 from Allied Domecq for 2.2M just recently. However most have come from takeovers of other pubcos, notably Marr Taverns and Sycamore Taverns in 1996. They recently bought a 25% share in Scorpio Inns (111 tenanted pubs) and plan to take over by the summer. In late January they received a takeover bid from Enterprise Inns, a similar company but with about 1700 pubs.

The company is also typical in sourcing its beers only from the big brewers, where huge discounts are the order of the day. Whitbread, Bass, Carlsberg-Tetley and Scottish Courage all supply; the only respite for the licensee is that they do have access to the guest beers available through those suppliers, e.g. the Tapsters Choice range offered by Bass.

Enterprising Inn Business licensees can therefore get their hands on some interesting ales though these tend to be from regional brewers rather than the micros.

Most of the estate is tenanted and the company claims their assets are "primarily invested in the timeless value of the traditional local". Certainly they've shown that what some would regard as big-brewery cast-offs can make up a profitable business - latest pre-tax profits were 140% up at 6.3M. Annual rents average at 30,000 an outlet, relatively high for the industry and reflecting the fact that most of the pubs are actually quality outlets.

There is a small branded managed operation called Hooden Horse, concentrating on spicy foods and a wider range of real ales. We'd welcome one in our area.

All our local Inn Business are worth a visit. The Rose & Crown, Teversham, has come on leaps and bounds in the last year under the stewardship of Terry Rayner and a fine pint is guaranteed here. The Flying Pig in Hills Road, Cambridge, run by Justine Nuttall, is another dependable cask beer outlet with a wide choice always available. The Rosemary Branch on Coldham's Lane, run by Chris & Ginny Smith, has recently benefited from a major refurbishment. The pub now supports a bewildering range of teams and activities. The Town & Gown is a cosy little two-bar pub, popular with the local gay community.

CAMRA's main gripe about pubcos has always been about beer choice. Whereas big brewery tenants have the right to a guest beer of their choice, if the pub is sold to a pubco that right disappears. That said, Inn Business do seem to be among the more enlightened operators and their commitment to the traditional tenancy is admirable.


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Cambridge & District CAMRA