Chinese firm purchases Pizza Express

<p>Hony Capital has bought the restaurant chain for around £900 million.</p>

A Chinese firm has purchased restaurant chain Pizza Express in a deal worth around £900 million.

The British company boasts over 400 outlets across the UK and a further 40 overseas in Europe, Hong Kong, India and the Middle East and will be owned by private equity firm Hony Capital following the purchase. The move is aimed at boosting Pizza Express' presence in Asia with chief executive Richard Hodgson described expansion on the continent as a "key part" of its future growth strategy.

Pizza Express currently has 22 restaurants in China, with The Gondola Group, previous owners of the chain, opening the first outlet in Beijing earlier in the year. It already has nine restaurants in Shanghai, 12 in Hong Kong and more in the likes of India, Saudi Arabia and Bali.

John Zhao, chief executive of Hony Capital, said: "With PizzaExpress, 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."

Hony Capital fought off competition from Chinese investment group Citic and four other private equity firms in an auction. It represents the largest deal in the European restaurant sectors in five years and also marks another change in the management of Pizza Express since it was founded in 1965.

The Soho firm was purchased by Cinven for £1 billion in 2006 prior to the recession caused by the economic downturn of 2008. Since then it has gone through some challenging times with the firm recording a pre-tax loss of £79 million despite a 4.2 per cent rise in its total sales for the year to June 30th 2013.

Pizza Express is the biggest asset in Cinven's Gondola Group which also owns Zizzi and ASK Italian as well as previously owning Byron Burgers. The latter was sold to Hutton Collins in October 2013 and Cinven is looking at options to sell the remaining two.

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