Wetherspoon to pour €100m into Irish pub network
JD Wetherspoon will plough €100m into developing its network of pubs in the Republic of Ireland, chief executive Tim Martin has revealed.
The Belfast-born multimillionaire said his UK pub chain was pouring money into Ireland.
Mr Martin said designs overhauls of around €1.5m, along the lines of what has just been completed at its Blackrock, Co Dublin outlet, will be completed on each of the 30 pubs it plans to open in the Republic.
Having already bought three pubs in Dublin and two in Cork, his company is now looking at sites in Galway, Mr Martin added.
"We are putting a lot of money into the country" Mr Martin said. "But the speed at which we can open these 30 pubs depends on how Irish customers respond to us".
On Friday the pub chain posted a 3pc rise in full-year profit and said it expected a "reasonable" outcome for 2014.
Menu improvements and longer opening hours helped bump up revenue by 10pc to £1.4bn (€1.8bn)
Wetherspoon, which has 900 pubs across the UK, revealed its Irish intentions last year to a mixed response. Some criticised the plans, arguing that the chain does not fit with Ireland's reputation for independent, high quality pubs. Thousands signed up to a Facebook group protesting the move.
Mr Martin said there had been no progress on a deal with Diageo and there is unlikely to be one in the short to medium term.
Wetherspoon has not sold Guinness or any other Diageo products at its Blackrock outlet since its launch, because of a price dispute. It has continued, however, to sell Diageo products in its UK pubs.
"It is possible to do without Guinness in Ireland" he said. Murphy and Beamish stout is sold by Wetherspoon pubs in Ireland instead.
"We are one of Diageo's biggest pub customers in the world. We don't think its fair that we pay far more for their products in Ireland than we do in the UK."
"Diageo have not come crawling to my door asking me to sell Guinness" he added.
There is "quite a big difference" between what Diageo charges it in Ireland and the UK, Mr Martin said, declining to reveal the exact price difference for commercial reasons.
Mr Martin also expanded on his decision not to buy the chain of pubs developed by the Capital Group which were recently put up for sale. They include Dublin institutions Café en Seine, Howl at the Moon, The George and The Dragon.
Those pubs' recovery over the past year means their sale price will include a large amount of goodwill, he added, which would be too costly for Wetherspoon given that it plans to totally revamp Irish acquisitions to fit its own style.
On local criticism of the chain, Mr Martin said was hard to say whether this sentiment had receded. "Most people have been very welcoming. Overall it's been great."