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Saltire Taverns is handed war chest to go on acquisitions trail

SALTIRE Taverns has been handed a "war chest" to build a portfolio of high-end boutique hotels in Edinburgh.

Founder Billy Lowe revealed Allied Irish Bank has made "significant funds" available to Saltire to target acquisitions in the Scottish capital.

Mr Lowe, who founded the company in 1997, said the backing signified the bank's faith in the hybrid bar, eating, entertainment and accommodation model he was developed at Le Monde and Angels Share in central Edinburgh.

The operator, who built up Thistle Inns with cousin Kenny Waugh before starting Saltire, revealed talks were underway which could pave the way for two acquisitions.

Saltire currently offers 48 bedrooms and multiple eating, drinking and accommodation options at its two hotels. Mr Lowe envisages building an estate offering in the region 150 and 200 boutique-style hotel rooms, alongside "associated quality food and drink venues that have the ability to provide entertainment.

He said: "We're fully supported by the bank and in the leisure sector we are one of the few to have been given the facility to go forward.

"My vision is the entertainment. We've invested in equipment and sound systems and we're putting on 120 shows in the Edinburgh festival this year. We've now got entertainment on in both places seven nights a week, which is just starting to kick in and show real impetus."

Mr Lowe, who has owned 32 bars in Edinburgh in 35 years, was commenting as new accounts at Companies House show Saltire returned to profitability in its latest financial year.

The operator noted it had invested about £1m in refurbishing Le Monde and Angels Share, which formerly traded as the Hudson Hotel, as it booked pre-tax profits £25,168 for the year ended January 31, 2013. Last year it reported a pre-tax loss of £108,896.

The firm said the refurbishment drove a 31% rise in sales over the period, with turnover up to £6.9m from £5.3m the year prior.

Alongside operating improvements, including a fresh focus on training, the rise in turnover helped lift operating profits to £223,594, up from £3805 in 2012.

Mr Lowe, who has boosted his senior management team by hiring Stuart Thom as director of operations and handing a key food and beverage role to son Billy, said it had been a "transitional year".

In recent years it has shifted away from traditional pubs to hybrids, having sold outlets such as the Illicit Still in Aberdeen, and Frankenstein pubs in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Mr Lowe said: "It's quite a big change in the direction we are taking, but things are going reasonably well."

Saltire saw net debt narrow slightly last year, and stood at £4.8m at the time the accounts were filed, down from £4.9m.

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