Gondola mulls swift return to private ownership

Cinven, a European buyout group, has made an unsolicited offer to the owner of pizza chains Pizza Express and ASK to take it private in a £559m deal, less than a year after floating.

Gondola Holdings, owner of Pizza Express, ASK and Zizzi restaurant chains in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, has received an approach bid for the company, according to an adviser familiar with the situation.
Cinven, a European buyout firm, is behind the 415 pence per share bid, which values the business at £559 million (€823 million). Cinven were unavailable for comment.
Gondola said in a statement there could be no certainty that an offer will be made but was considering its position.

The source said the board would consider Cinven’s “serious approach, which was completely unsolicited and came out of the blue.”

He said: “If you look at the share price, the stock market has not given Gondola the rating it deserves. It has been a bit curmudgeonly. The result is interest from a private equity firm that thinks it can do better.”
Private equity firms TDR Capital and Capricorn Ventures International, which own a combined 48 percent stake in Gondola, acquired the Pizza Express restaurant chain in a £280 million take-private in May 2003, which also saw interest from ABN AMRO Capital and Luke Johnson’s Risk Capital Partners. The ASK Group, which includes the Zizzi brand, was acquired in May 2004.

Gondola’s share price since floating last November

In November 2005, Gondola was put back on the public markets with a listing price of 320 pence. At 8.30am BST today, Gondola shares were trading at 400.25 pence per share, slightly down from yesterday’s close of 402 pence.
Gondola operates 319 PizzaExpress, 110 ASK and 81 Zizzi restaurants across the UK and Republic of Ireland, of which 23 were opened in 2006. The company said that there is scope to expand the three brands by at least another 300 restaurants. Gondola reported total group sales of £212.9 million and EBITDA of £47.7 million in its interim results for the 28 weeks ended 8 January 2006.
Cinven closed its fourth fund in June of this year with €6.5 billion of commitments.