• French banking arm near buyout deal for PizzaExpress

LONDON - PAI Management, the private equity arm of French bank BNP Paribas SA, is set to complete a deal with British restaurant chain PizzaExpress worth $399 million (250 million pounds), according to the Times of London.

It is the latest in a series of speculated changes in ownership for the 300-store chain, which included rumored buyout offers led by co-founder Luke Johnson and venture capital group Twigway.

PizzaExpress chief executive David Page leads PAI Management's bid, one of three suitors currently being considered, according to an industry source cited by the Times. The others were Johnson and an unidentified venture capital firm.

PizzaExpress also runs Café Pasta restaurants in the UK, and sells frozen pizza through grocery stores. Its stock price has been volatile in the last year, as the company has struggled in part due to a decline in tourism in London. The company is introducing a new chicken pizza as part of a series of menu changes, and increasing its pizza size by 20 percent.

See related stories: Former PizzaExpress chief, Eldridge, behind possible bid for chain: Twigway withdraws bid to buy PizzaExpress; Buyout rumors can't buoy PizzaExpress stock; First quarter sales off 4.4% at PizzaExpress.

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