Blackstone snaps up Strada

Tragus, a UK restaurant chain backed by The Blackstone Group, has bounced back from the disappointment of losing out in the battle for La Tasca with the acquisition of UK restaurant chain Strada for £140 million. It is the latest buyout deal in the popular UK restaurant sector.

One of The Blackstone Group’s portfolio companies, UK restaurant business Tragus, has bought Italian pizza chain Strada for £140 million (€206 million, $277 million).

Blackstone bought Tragus, owner of the Café Rouge and Bella Italia chains, for £267 million in December 2006. This is the second deal Tragus has completed under Blackstone’s ownership, following the acquisition of the Ma Potters chain in February 2007. It is now one of the UK’s biggest restaurant companies, with 234 sites across the UK.

Strada was previously owned by Richard Caring, a restauranteur who owns celebrated London restaurants The Ivy and Le Caprice. Caring has been linked with a bid for Carluccio’s, an Italian restaurant chain in which he recently bought a 3 percent stake.

The UK restaurant sector is a popular destination for private equity capital. In October, European buyout firm Cinven bought Gondola Group, owner of the Pizza Express, Ask and Zizzi restaurant chains, for £559 million.

Tragus recently tried to buy Spanish tapas chain La Tasca, but had its bid trumped by property entrepreneur Robert Tchenguiz, who eventually completed a £96 million deal for the business. Tchenguiz reportedly also attempted to trump Tragus’ bid for Strada, but this time without success.

UK entrepreneur Luke Johnson, through his investment vehicle Risk Capital Partners, has been another active player in the sector. Johnson was responsible for building Pizza Express into one of the UK’s biggest restaurant chains before floating the business in 1993. He afterwards founded Strada, which he sold to Caring for £57 million in September 2005. He retains stakes in Giraffe and Patisserie Valerie.

The Blackstone Group’s private equity business was founded in 1987 and has more than $32.4 billion under management.