UK still in love with pizza as restaurant chain expands

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THE UK’s love affair with pizza shows no sign of slowing down as Italian restaurant chain Prezzo forges ahead with ambitious expansion plans following another year of double digit growth.

The AIM-listed company, which has restaurants in Leeds, Ripon and Harrogate, intends to open up 25-30 new restaurants across the UK this year.

York is among the restaurants scheduled to open in 2014. Last month Prezzo opened a restaurant in Ripon.

The company employs about 65 staff in Yorkshire.

Chief executive Jonathan Kaye said: “Pizza is a popular food and has been for some time. The casual dining market does it well and we are getting better at it.”

Last year, the pizza and pasta chain, which has 238 restaurants, opened 28 new sites, including The Light and White Rose Centre in Leeds.

However, its restaurant in the centre of Harrogate is currently closed following a major fire last month which ravaged its ground floor premises and first floor flats.

Mr Kaye said he was thankful no-one was injured and has vowed to re-open the restaurant. “Investigations are ongoing but we have just found out that the building is secure,” he said. “We would like to be open again as soon as possible but it could be some time away.”

Prezzo operates restaurants under three different names: Prezzo, Chimichanga and Cleaver, a new grilled chicken, ribs and burger brand, which it launched last summer.

Chairman Michael Carlton said last year’s openings provided Prezzo with its first restaurants in major centres such as Leeds and Belfast, as well as additional sites in Bath, Oxford and Glasgow.

It also continues to open in leisure and retail developments such as the Whitely Shopping Centre in Hampshire, Gloucester Quays and Bicester and in small provincial towns including Rayleigh, Felixstowe and Kettering.

“This wide range of locations into which our brands can be introduced is one of the key strengths of our business,” Mr Carlton said.

The company has 195 Prezzo restaurants, 37 Chimichanga restaurants and four trading as Cleaver.

The first Cleaver restaurant opened in Cobham, Surrey, followed by Leatherhead, Wokingham and Oxford. “Together (they) provide us with a test-bed for further development and refinement of the brand,” said Mr Carlton.

“Early signs and initial sales have, however, been encouraging.”

Prezzo is currently on site in a further six locations. “Our property pipeline for 2014 is well-advanced and plans for 2015 and beyond are also taking shape,” he added.

Adjusted pre-tax profit at Prezzo rose by 11 per cent to £20.4m in the year to December 29, 2013, while revenue went up by 15 per cent to £166.5m.

Cash flow from operations was broadly in line at £30.8m, compared to £31.3m in 2012, and after making corporation tax payments of £3.9m, there was £26.9m available for investment or financing.

The company proposed a final dividend of 0.310 pence per share, a 13 per cent increase from 0.275 pence a year earlier.

Mr Carlton said: “Finally, there are indications that the vital signs of the UK economy are improving, and therefore having delivered a continuous record of growth throughout its recent period of difficulties, there is every reason to be positive about our future performance.”

He added: “We have enjoyed an encouraging start to the year and with a strong site pipeline in place, the Board is confident of further success in 2014.”