A LICENSED trade property agent has declared “the phone has not stopped ringing” since it was instructed to sell a portfolio of some of Scotland’s best-known pubs.

Shepherd Chartered Surveyors has been inundated with calls since it effectively began the selling process for seven outlets owned by the Three Thistles pub company on Friday.

The portfolio includes three renowned pubs in Glasgow – the long-established Clockwork Beer Co close to Hampden Park, Dram! On Woodlands Road, and The West Side Tavern in Partick – as well as The Steading in Edinburgh, The Laird and Dog in Lasswade, Telfords in Paisley and The Dog House in Balloch.

Based in premises which traded for many years as Uisge Beatha, Dram! is a popular haunt on the Glasgow west end hospitality circuit. It is located close to a clutch of popular bars and restaurants, including the Doublet, Stravaigin, and the Halt Bar, as well as The Stand Comedy Club. The Clockwork, which housed Glasgow’s first microbrewery when it opened in 1997, attracts huge crowds of the Tartan Army when Scotland play at Hampden, while The Steading on Biggar Road, close to the Midlothian Snowsports Centre, is regarded as one of Edinburgh’s best-known hospitality businesses.

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Asked if anyone had yet come forward to express interest in buying the pubs, Gary Louttit, head of hospitality and leisure at Shepherd, told The Herald: “We effectively went live on Friday evening, and put it this way, the phone has not stopped ringing all weekend and this morning. So, there is a lot of interest in the units.

Three Thistles plc is owned by a large and varied group of shareholders. No specific reason has been announced for the decision to sell the pubs, but Mr Louttit emphasised that there is “no stress on the sale”. He added: “There is no whiff of that. It is a very voluntary, and a pre-judged decision by the shareholders to put it to the market. Maybe they think the market is going to be a bit poorer next year, I don’t know.

“From my point of view, never look a gift horse in the mouth. When someone comes along and says "would you like to sell a portfolio of well-established and iconic pubs", I am not going to say no.”

The Three Thistles portfolio has come to the market at a challenging time for the hospitality industry, which has found its path back to profitability from the pandemic blocked by a sharp rise in operating costs, which has coincided with a cost of living crisis.

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Campaigners on both sides of the Border have been calling for more support for the sector. The announcement last week by Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt of an extension to business rates relief for the hospitality, retail, and leisure sectors in England and Wales sparked calls for First Minister Humza Yousaf to make a similar offer at the Scottish Budget next month. However, the Scottish Government regularly highlights the strength of support it provides on business rates in different ways, including through the small business bonus scheme.

When asked to assess current buying and selling conditions for hospitality industry property, Mr Louttit replied: “There is no doubt that these are challenging times. There are lots of issues that the sector is facing. A lot of businesses are on the surface of it doing well in terms of turnover, but struggling to get the bottom line up to where it should be.

“But then again, there are a lot of businesses doing okay, despite the challenges they are facing. All I would say is that there are lots of things still selling. The market has not gone quiet. That means there are still people providing funding.

“As a selling agent, I could honestly say to you that I think things are still reasonably positive in the market at the moment. Yes, it would be nice if more of the mainstream banks were more positive about their funding to the sector. There is no doubt some of them have taken a wee bit of a back step on it. But there are still funders out there who seem confident about the market.

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“There are still lots of buyers out there wanting to buy, as this portfolio will prove. This portfolio is not going to be sitting around on the shelf too long, believe me. I think we will be at closing date on this fairly swiftly.”

Shepherd said the Three Thistles collection is available for sale as one or as individual units.

Six of the seven properties are held on a freehold basis, while The West Side Tavern is being marketed on a leasehold basis.

Asked if anyone had show interest in acquiring the entire portfolio, Mr Louttit said: “I don’t know is the answer to that. There are one or two big hitters in there showing an interest in declaring a formal note of interest. They haven’t specifically said: “we are interested in buying the whole portfolio”. The majority of enquiries at the moment seem to be for either individual units or a couple of the units at a time.”

Mr Louttit said in a statement: “I am delighted to be bringing this highly sought after portfolio of licensed premises to the market and am confident that there will be a strong level of interest from both local and national established operators in the sector.

“The ability to add such high profile and well trading outlets to an existing portfolio offers a rare acquisition opportunity.

“Despite the many challenges faced by the licensed trade in Scotland, many businesses are trading well and buyer appetite for such businesses remains strong, particularly within the central belt, as is underlined by the recent sales of other iconic businesses such as The Ubiquitous Chip, Hanoi Bike Shop and Stravaigin.”