Granny Annies adds to stable as it snaps up five Wetherspoon's pubs
UK pub chain JD Wetherspoon has sold five pubs across Northern Ireland to homegrown business Granny Annies as it embarks on a major expansion.
The Old Courthouse in Coleraine, The Spinning Mill in Ballymena, The Linen Hall in Enniskillen and two Londonderry pubs have all been off-loaded by Wetherspoon's.
Wetherspoon's, which is known for its low-price food and drink, will continue to run four pubs in Belfast, Newtownards, Lisburn and Carrickfergus - and has plans to open another two in Belfast city centre.
The amount paid by Granny Annies has not been disclosed but it is thought to be over £3m.
Granny Annies Group operates three pubs in Londonderry, Limavady and at the former Victoria's in Chichester Street, Belfast, close to the law courts.
Granny Annies is run by Limavady brothers Willis and Ryan McLaughlin of W & R Holdings.
It is understood they recently snapped up a number of properties in Ann Street in Belfast, as well as the Eglinton Hotel in Portrush, and have applied for planning permission for developing the locations.
The brothers were not available for comment yesterday. But one industry insider said the capacity of a Northern Ireland firm to make an acquisition from a UK chain reflected the distinctive nature of the pub sector here.
"It's not all about cheap drink and food. Our local independent offering is very strong," they said.
Wetherspoon's is led by Tim Martin, who went to school in Northern Ireland. He said staff at the pubs would be transferred to the new owner and that there would be no job losses.
Mr Martin, chairman of the company, said: "We understand that our loyal customers will be disappointed with the decision to sell five of our pubs in Northern Ireland. However, as a company we have to make commercial decisions and it was decided to sell the pubs.
"At the same time we are looking to open two new pubs in Belfast in the near future."
In a trading update earlier this month, Wetherspoon's said sales UK-wide had slowed in recent weeks.
But it is understood the five pubs which have now been sold had been under-performing for some time.
Wetherspoon's will continue to run its pubs in Belfast, Newtownards, Carrickfergus and Lisburn.
The company aims to open two new pubs in Belfast at a former JJB Sports in Royal Avenue, Belfast, and a former Methodist Church in University Road.
Wetherspoon's said it intends to spend more than £4.5m and create 100 new jobs across the two developments, and wants to develop a new beer garden at The Bridge House in Belfast.
Colin Neill, chief executive of industry group Hospitality Ulster, said the transaction was "great news".
"We are encouraged to hear that all the staff will transfer across to the new owners and that there will be no job losses.
"This is especially welcome as we move into the festive season, the busiest time of the year for the hospitality sector.
"This purchase and announcement of a significant level of investment by the group shows the confidence that they have in the local hospitality sector."