Pizza Express sold to Chinese investors for £900m

High street restaurant chain Pizza Express has been taken over by a Chinese private equity firm in a deal worth around £900m.

Gondola Group, which also owns Zizzi, Ask and Kettner’s, confirmed over the weekend that it has agreed to sell the business to Beijing-based Hony Capital.

In a statement, the two companies said the transaction was the largest in the European casual dining industry in the past five years.

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There are 436 Pizza Express restaurants in the UK along with 68 overseas. 22 of its international outlets are based in China.

Earlier this year, Pizza Express said it was preparing for the “next stage” of an ambitious expansion strategy that would see it open a further 200 restaurants in the UK and 200 abroad.

The company is understood to regard Asia as integral to that growth and believes Beijing-based Hony’s expertise in that region will be invaluable, particularly in China.

“We have built a strong track record in helping Chinese enterprises to expand globally,” said John Zhao, chief executive of Hony Capital. “With Pizza Express, we have the opportunity to leverage our local expertise to accelerate its growth in the Chinese market, as well as to continue to drive its business forward in the UK.”

Since the business was taken private seven years ago, Gondola has added over 130 Pizza Express restaurants in the UK and created around 2,500 jobs.

Gondola re-acquired the Pizza Express international brand rights in 2010 and Pizza Express has subsequently developed strong platforms in a number of regions from which to accelerate its expansion.

Over the last seven years, EBITDA has grown through the recession from around £60m to £90m.

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