Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

300 jobs saved after bars owned by Botanic Inns pub chain are sold

Sold: Belfast's Botanic Inn
Sold: Botanic Inns grew into Northern Ireland's biggest chain on the strength of its original pub, The Bot, on Belfast's Malone Road

Six flagship bars owned by the troubled Botanic Inns group have been sold, it emerged last night.

Northern Ireland’s biggest pub chain went into administration last week.

The company operates ‘The Bot' on Malone Road, one of the best-known pubs in Belfast's university area.

The administrators KPMG said 300 jobs will now be transferred to the new owners.

It was reported last night that a firm called the Horatio Group bought the pubs, along with the off-licence chain DR:NK.

Botanic Inns former managing director Stephen Magorrian recently set up three companies — Horatio Enterprise, Horatio Taverns and The Fly Bar — indicating he is involved in the buyout.

It is not yet known how much was paid for the various establishments.

Seven other bars in the group are still being run by the administrators who said they were confident of selling them in due course.

The businesses which have been sold are the namesake Botanic Inn, Madisons Hotel, the King’s Head, the Northern Whig, the Elms and the Fly.

Last year, the King’s Head on the Lisburn Road in trendy south Belfast was valued at around £2m.

An industry insider last night said the sale of the pubs sounded like what is termed a “pre-pack”.

This is where assets about to be placed in administration, such as the pubs, are prepared to be sold on immediately to an identified buyer.

This results in a quick sale such as that seen here.

The source said this strategy works well with businesses which have a high level of debt but are trading as going concerns — a description which fits the six pubs sold.

The seven businesses still being run by the administrators are: the Apartment, the Kitchen Bar, McHugh's, the Parador, Molly Browns, Denvirs and Ryan’s Bar. Joint administrators John Hansen and Stuart Irwin said they were confident of achieving a successful sale of these venues in due course and also securing the employment of the remaining 300-plus staff.

The company’s parlous state was revealed by the Belfast Telegraph following a court action by the landlord of its old offices in south Belfast for £60,000 in unpaid rent. John and Helen Miskelly, owners of the Ormeau Road office building, filed a winding-up petition against Botanic Inns over the debt after it did not pay a statutory demand within 21 days, which triggered the move into administration.

It’s been a startling fall for the pub chain which was seen as one of Northern Ireland’s most vibrant companies.

The once family-owned business went through a major period of expansion in the 1990s and 2000s. By 2004, it had 11 pubs and two off-licences.

That year, charismatic managing director Jas Mooney sold his stake in the business and moved to Australia.

The company was able to capitalise on an economy on the up in the late 1990s and early 2000s, thanks to the positivity generated by the Good Friday Agreement and the credit and property boom.

High rents and the falling value of its properties made the going tough, but the pub industry as a whole suffered because of the growing popularity of drinking at home.

The devastating impact on trade of loyalist protests over the flying of the Union flag compounded the woes of Botanic Inns and others like it.

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