• Strong '02 leads Ask Central to open more pizza sites

ST. ALBANS, England -- Solid December sales are leading Ask Central to open at least 25 outlets in 2003.

According to Ananova, the 10-year-old company, which owns and operates pizza and pasta outlets ASK and Zizzi, opened 20 units last year for a total of 146.

It has not yet reported same-store figures for the period or for 2002, but a consensus estimate from analysts puts Ask Central's pre-tax profits at £16.5 million (U.S. $26.5 million) for the year.

The good news encouraged investors on Jan. 6 as trading on the FTSE pushed share prices up more than 11 percent.

Despite struggles suffered by rival PizzaExpress, Ask's pizza sales have been strong amid tourism declines since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. Analysts attribute much of that success to the location of the majority of Ask stores outside the M25 beltway around London, and away from tourist areas.

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