• Bidding war for PizzaExpress brewing after Johnson bid

LONDON -- A financial consortium led by former PizzaExpress chairman Luke Johnson, former CEO Ian Eldridge and backed by ABN Amro Capital offered £263 million, 370 pence per share, (U.S. $415.6 million, $5.84 respectively) for the struggling pizza company on Feb. 27.

According to Ananova, the bid was accepted by the company but still may be challenged by Capricorn Ventures and its private equity partner TDR Capital. Capricorn Ventures owns the 380-store Mexican chain, Nando's, and a share of 40-store Scooters Pizza in South Africa.

Sensing a possible bidding war, PizzaExpress shares surged 15 percent to 381.5 pence (U.S. $6.02) in trading on the FTSE.

As share prices rose, Hugh Osmond, who helped take the company public in 1993 and made a failed bid for the company in November (See related story "Twigway withdraws bid to buy PizzaExpress"), sold his £7.5 million (U.S. $11.9 million) personal stake in the company. The developments come more than two months after PizzaExpress first announced it had attracted bid interest.

According to a BBC report, despite nearly two years of sales declines at PizzaExpress, Johnson believes the 311-store chain still has great potential.

PizzaExpress chairman Nigel Colne told Reuters that if TDR-Capricorn group is serious about filing a rival bid, it needs to do so "relatively urgently."

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