If takeover bid wins, ex-PizzaExpress chair will change menu

Feb. 27, 2003

LONDON -- Luke Johnson, former chairman of PizzaExpress, said he'll change the 311-store chain's menu if his group's takeover bid, placed Feb. 27, wins the struggling company.

According to The Glasgow Herald, any change to the menu will be the first in a decade.

Johnson helped lead the chain in expanding from 40 outlets to 200 after buying into it in 1993. In that same year, he and former partner Hugh Osmond, then took it public.

Johnson is credited with transforming it into a restaurant company known for upscale pizzas, stylish decor, jazz music and fine wines.

He announced yesterday that a cash buyout deal for the chain had been reached for £263 million, or 370 pence per share, (U.S. $415.6 million, $5.84 respectively). Supporting him in the offer is Ian Eldridge, the company's former chief executive officer. Their bid is backed by ABN Amro Capital.

Johnson said that updating the menu would be crucial to transforming PizzaExpress' ailing fortunes, including a profit drop of 18 percent in its most recent quarter.

"Pizza Express hasn't evolved its menu like competitors have," Johnson told The Herald. "We'd change the menu more frequently, use a bit of trial-and-error and introduce seasonal dishes. There are lots of important dishes I'd like to keep, but there will need to be variety."

Herald restaurant reviewer Ron MacKenna doubts PizzaExpress' fortunes could be reversed easily.

"They've tried to make it on a par with a classy evening out. But pizza always will be just a snack. It's just not the full bhuna," MacKenna said.

** In a related story published by The Guardian, Johnson said he didn't see a potential rival bid for PizzaExpress coming to fruition. (See "Bidding war for PizzaExpress brewing after Johnson bid.")

Speculation that a consortium made up of TDR Capital and Capricorn Ventures would top Johnson's bid, sent PizzaExpress share prices rising on Feb. 27. Capricorn owns Nando's, a Mexican restaurant chain with 380 units,

"I had never heard of them until today," said Johnson. "My offer is on the table and recommended and I don't think there will be another offer."

According to The Guardian, a spokesman for TDR and Capricorn said a counter-offer was not certain but added, "They are serious and are in detailed and advanced discussions with several major lenders."

Topics: Public Companies

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