• Former PizzaExpress chief, Eldridge, behind possible bid for chain

LONDON -- Former PizzaExpress chief executive Ian Eldridge is behind a bid by that company's former co-owner, Luke Johnson, to buy the struggling chain.

According to the London Observer, Eldridge, who quit the company in February, has worked with Johnson on a deal for several weeks. The pair wants to raise debt financing and launch a £250 million-plus (U.S. $397 million) bid for the pizza chain in January.

Rumor that Johnson (who took the chain public in 1993 with then-co-owner Hugh Osmond) was positioning himself for a run at PizzaExpress was confirmed earlier this month.

Since then, however, many High Street observers doubted Johnson's seriousness about buying the business since he is directing a management buyout of Signature Restaurants, which owns the Ivy and Le Caprice in London.

News that Eldridge is involved in the bid, which will be made through Johnson's vehicle Risk Capital Partners, may convince naysayers that Johnson is serious. Eldridge has extensive knowledge of the company. He joined PizzaExpress in 1983 and worked his way up through the ranks to become chief executive.

Osmond and the Twigway investment group posted a £250 million (U.S. $397 million) bid for Pizza Express in October, but talks fell apart (See "Twigway withdraws bid to buy PizzaExpress") in mid-November when PizzaExpress would not post an inducement fee (See "Twigway confirms it demanded inducement fee in PizzaExpress" bid) requested by Osmond.

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