Old Post Office gets new Arc bar

A Leeds-based bar group is set to invest £1.5m opening its flagship city centre venue in the former Loch Fyne restaurant on City Square.

Arc Inspirations, which celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, beat a number of bidders - including national pub operators - to take over 8,000 sq ft premises in the old Post Office building opposite Leeds Station.

The site, which is owned by property tycoon Paul Sykes’ Highstone Group and was leased by Greene King until earlier this month, will be transformed into Arc Inspirations’ Banyan brand.

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Arc managing director Martin Wolstencroft told The Yorkshire Post that winning the site was a coup for the group, which runs 14 venues across Leeds, Harrogate, York and Manchester.

He said: “We’ve done very well in beating other operators to that site, there was national interest in taking over the building.

“It’s at the heart of City Square, and with the growth of the train station it’s a huge opportunity for us.”

Banyan Leeds will open in March 2016, creating 60 jobs.

The acquisition comes just weeks after the £20m-turnover group made its first foray into the North West, opening Banyan in the city’s Exchange Quarter.

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The 13,000 sq ft venue, which has 150 outdoor covers and is based opposite Selfridges, has been well received by the city, Mr Wolstencroft said.

He said: “The feedback has been fantastic. It was our biggest investment to date, at £1.5m, and it’s our biggest site yet.”

Arc Inspirations now has a total estate of 90,000 sq ft across 15 sites, operating nine brands grouped into five markets: student suburban bars; aspirational neighbourhood venues; authentic American bars; high-street retail and late-night experience.

Mr Wolstencroft said: “We could go to any town and city and we’ve got a formula and a brand that will work well in any kind of location or building that’s available.”

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Arc Inspirations was founded by Mr Wolstencroft in 2000. Having started his career at Whitbread, his first venture was student-focused bar Arc in Headingley.

It was followed quickly by The Box and Trio in Headingley, before the launch of Zed in Chapel Allerton, which is now known as Kith & Kin.

In its first eight years, the group launched eight bars. When the financial crisis hit in 2008, it weathered the storm without making any closures. He said: “The recession hit and everything quietened down a bit. There weren’t as many buildings coming to market, the property market ground to a halt.

“We took stock for a while and didn’t open anything for a while, though we reinvested £850,000 back in the Arc and shored up our core estate.”

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Arc Inspirations has since opened a further six venues, including American-inspired pub The Pit, cocktail bar Manahatta and suburban food and drink venue Napa. The business employs 600 people and invests heavily in its staff, with dozens of its management team having joined as part-time staff.

Mr Wolstencroft said he is proud of the strength of the business.

He said: “We’re very proud to have come from a standing start and still be operating 15 years later. There’s hundreds and hundreds of bars and restaurants that have opened in Leeds while we’ve been open who have gone bust.”

“The challenge with any of our brands is to keep evolving them. In this business, it’s so competitive you can’t sit on your laurels,” he added.