Danu in talks to sell stake in Mercantile pub group

Investment firm owns 22% of group behind Dublin’s George, Whelans and Cafe en Seine

Cafe en Seine pub on Dawson Street in Dublin, part of the Mercantile group. A €3m revamp of the “super-pub” is planned for next year, subject to planning permission. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Cafe en Seine pub on Dawson Street in Dublin, part of the Mercantile group. A €3m revamp of the “super-pub” is planned for next year, subject to planning permission. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Investment group Danu Partners is in talks to sell its minority stake in the Mercantile pub group to its Irish-US co-investors, according to sources.

Danu, comprising Mark O’Meara and Setanta Sports founders Leonard Ryan and Mickey O’Rourke, owns about 22 per cent of the pub group, which includes well-known Dublin nightspots such as Cafe en Seine and Whelans.

Danu has held talks about selling its stake to EMI-MR, a company controlled by Irish-born, US-based scaffolding tycoon Michael Breslin and US-based Kerry builder Maurice Regan.

EMI-MR owns 78 per cent of the group, and would become the outright owner if a deal is concluded, although an agreement has not yet reached.

The potential exit of Danu from the Mercantile group, whose seven outlets also include the George and Opium, would be seen as a surprise move within the booming Dublin pubs sector.

The Mercantile Group emerged in May from a long-running dispute between former shareholder Frank Gleeson and his fellow investors, which resulted in three separate legal actions.

Struck out

Those court cases were all struck out in May, after a wide-ranging agreement between both sides which saw Mr Gleeson exit the group with control of two restaurants and a bar in Dublin that were once part of Mercantile.

Danu is expected to focus instead on expanding its US steakhouse chain, Smith & Wollensky. EMI-MR is a co-investor of Danu’s in a S&W outlet in London, while Mr Regan is a minority investor with the Irish firm in S&W in the US. Those ongoing business relationships are unaffected by the talks in Dublin.

Danu is planning to open a new 250-seat S&W restaurant in Wellesley, near Boston, according to US hospitality trade journal reports this week. Eater Boston magazine said a new S&W will open on the site early next year.

Meanwhile, Danu closed its S&W outlet in Las Vegas at the beginning of summer, and is currently looking for a new premises there. The investment group also operates S&W outlets in other US cities such as New York and Chicago.

The Mercantile Group, meanwhile, is continuing with an extensive investment plan at its Dublin nightspots.

Upscale bars

Sequana Management, a company linked to the Mercantile Group, applied this month for planning permission to revamp Cafe en Seine, which is located in the midst of a strip of upscale bars on Dublin’s Dawson Street.

The plan involves opening up the back of the bar onto Anne’s Lane at the rear, the construction of a huge timber and glass rear facade, as well as changing the internal configuration of the cavernous premises, which is considered one of the archetypal Dublin “super-pubs”.

The project is expected to cost about €3 million and building could begin early next year, if approval is granted.

Another €3 million revamp of Opium is due to finish shortly, and will include huge paintings by Irish urban artists.

An extension of the group’s’s lucrative Mercantile hotel on Dublin’s Dame Street is also expected to kick off late next year.

A spokesman for the group was unavailable for comment.