Cinven Cooks Up £1bn-Plus PizzaExpress Sale
The owner of PizzaExpress has begun talking to potential buyers about a deal that would lead to the break-up of one of Britain's biggest restaurant operators.
Sky News understands that advisers to Gondola Holdings, PizzaExpress's parent company, has begun contacting private equity firms and other interested parties about a sale in recent days.
Cinven, Gondola's owner, is understood to be seeking a minimum of £1bn for the business, a higher price-tag than had previously been attached to it.
Goldman Sachs, the investment bank, is running the auction, which is expected to take several months.
At £1bn, analysts believe a deal would value PizzaExpress at roughly ten times its annual profits, although the company does not provide separate figures about the performance of the chain and its sister businesses, Zizzi and Ask Italian.
PizzaExpress operates from nearly 500 sites in a dozen countries, and has plans to open 200 new restaurants in fast-growing markets such as China and India during the next five years.
Founded in 1965, the chain has been through multiple changes of ownership, including at one stage being run by Luke Johnson, the restaurants entrepreneur.
The business is now headed by Richard Hodgson, a former Asda and Wm Morrison executive, who joined a year ago.
Harvey Smyth, Gondola's chief executive, said last October that the business had produced a strong performance last year with group profits of £112.2m, a 6% rise on 2012.
"There are encouraging early signs of recovery in the trading backdrop and we are well-positioned to benefit from any further upturn in market conditions," he said.
"Overall, we are confident of achieving further significant progress in the current year and the long-term growth drivers of our business remain compelling."
A successful sale of PizzaExpress is expected to be followed by separate auctions of Gondola's other assets
A Gondola spokesman declined to comment on Thursday.