A BAR and restaurant operator has revealed expansion plans including the launch of a string of coffee shops and the opening of a gastropub built on the ruins of a Northumberland castle.
Washington-based Principle Leisure is growing its chain of 12 sites in the North and Midlands with the launch of three new businesses in the North East.
It is about to open a retro-styled coffee and snack takeaway in Clayton Street in Newcastle city centre which it hopes will be the first of a chain across the region. And it is continuing to roll out the Popolo cafe-bar brand. Plans are for a new branch in Newcastle’s Eldon Garden shopping centre and a bar in Guisborough, near Redcar, later in the year.
But closest to the heart of managing director Stuart Young is the plan to open a gastropub in the long-closed Blackbird Inn which stands on the site of the 13th Century Ponteland Castle.
He said: “This is quite special because a third of the building is the original castle building. It has been there since the 14th Century but was badly damaged by the Scots in the retreat from the Battle of Otterburn in 1388.
“There had been a pub there since the 1930s and it was a haunt of mine and my friends when we were growing up but it closed down and had got very rundown. There are three pubs in the area but they don’t concentrate on food so I think there will be a good market.”
He hopes to restore the building and is meeting with English Heritage to ensure the work is sympathetic to the remains of the stone medieval manor house and its additions in the 16th and 17th Centuries.
Mr Young said the company’s turn- over has risen to around £10m from just over £9m the previous year and is maintaining profits despite the slump in leisure spending which ravaged the sector and led to the closure of thousands of UK pubs and restaurants.
“It is a difficult market and it is still very hard to find finance but we are expanding slowly and carefully and keeping a very close eye on costs,” he said.
“Our businesses are still doing well. Sometimes it is because we have strong brands like Popolo’s and focus on neighbourhood restaurants which are doing fine. I think the market for takeaway coffee shops is still very strong and hope the Cafe-a-Go-Go brand will do very well.”
The expansion in the North East, which will create around 44 jobs, will be accompanied by growth in the company’s other key markets in Yorkshire and beyond. Its sites include San Lorenzo in Gosforth, Newcastle, Ristorante Fiume in Washington and restaurants in Nottingham and Sheffield.