Company profile: Novus renews

Bar Soho First floor hunting lodgeInvestment has put Novus Leisure in a strong position as its CEO prepares to depart, reports Mark Ludmon

When Steve Richards took up the helm of the newly formed Novus Leisure eight years ago, it was made up of 36 late-night bars taken on from Urbium. Since then, a mix of disposals and acquisitions such as Balls Brothers and the bulk of Soho Clubs & Bars have left the company with 50 venues, mainly in central London but also nationally through nine Tiger Tigers. Steve is now due to step down this summer and, while a net gain of 14 sites may not be much by some companies’ standards, the business has been strengthened through investment in bars, concepts and systems.

Novus was bought last summer by investment companies Hutton Collins Partners and LGV Capital in a deal worth £100million. Since then, Steve has formed a new management team including chief operating officer Tim Cullum, who joined from TGI Friday’s where he was operations director for six years, and finance director Gregor Grant who came from pub and leisure companies such as Morrells of Oxford, Eldridge Pope and Fuddruckers in the US.
Novus has been investing extensively in its estate including the revamp of the Lewis & Clark bars that it acquired in its takeover of Balls Brothers two years ago including The Last in Shoe Street and The Gable in Moorgate. Concepts within Tiger Tiger have also continued to be refreshed, such as a new burger diner in Aberdeen.

More recently, Novus completed major refurbishments of three of its sites in London’s West End, all with design practice Harrison. Bar Soho in Old Compton Street – part of the Soho Clubs & Bars acquisition in 2008 – underwent a “tongue in cheek” revamp inspired by Soho’s past. The top floor has become a “boudoir”, complete with a bed, while a meeting room is dressed as a Victorian water closet (pictured top). In the toilets are lip-shaped urinals. The downstairs bar is like a fairground with a carousel as well as retro TV sets lining the walls and a graffitied ceiling featuring Amy Winehouse and the Krays. “The venue isn’t a typical bar,” its general manger Das Philiotis says. “The whole place has been designed to give a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”


Another former Soho Clubs & Bars site is Jewel in Piccadilly, which has been relaunched with an opulent new look. New spaces include the Ruby Room and Bar Blanca, with its own entrance, and two private rooms called The Boutique and The Parlour. In Covent Garden, the former Long Island Iced Tea Shop has been transformed into the opulent Verve (pictured), with chandeliers and plush booths clad in luxurious leather. The private Mirror Bar has walls of mirrors and buttery leather sofas and tables with individual lamps. Verve’s Basement Bar, featuring a dance floor and “hidden” booths, combines exposed brickwork with red highlights. “Our revamp has seen the bar take on a stylish and sleek new look,” says general manager Ben Childs.

Despite Steve’s departure, an investment programme is in place through to next year and, last month, Novus agreed terms on a site in Leicester Square. “This year has been one of building for the future in terms of developing the customer proposition, strengthening the digital sales channel and recruiting an experienced team with the capabilities to complement and add to Novus’s highly successful management team,” Steve says. “Leaving a business that is part of your DNA is never easy but it is the right decision for me and for the business and I look forward to hearing of its continuing success.”

Originally published in the July 2013 edition of Bar magazine.

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