Chinese takeaway for PizzaExpress

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Restaurant chain PizzaExpress is to be sold to a Chinese firm for £900m.

Gondola Group said it had agreed the sale with Hony Capital, a leading private equity firm in China. It is believed to be one of the largest deals in the European restaurant sector in the past five years. PizzaExpress has 436 outlets in the UK along with 68 elsewhere in the world, including 22 in China. It has around 19 restaurants in Yorkshire, including outlets in Leeds and Sheffield. Gondola Group, which also owns Zizzi and ASK Italian, said it had added more than 130 PizzaExpress restaurants in the UK and created around 2,500 jobs since it went private seven years ago

John Zhao, chief executive of the Chinese firm, said: “Hony Capital is delighted to have acquired PizzaExpress, a well-established and exciting brand.

“We have built a strong track record in helping Chinese enterprises to expand globally. With PizzaExpress, we have the opportunity to leverage our local expertise to accelerate its growth in the Chinese market, as well as to continue to drive its business forward in the UK.”

Harvey Smyth, chief executive of Gondola Group, said: “PizzaExpress is an iconic brand in the UK restaurant sector with a strong and growing international presence. This has been reflected in the considerable interest we received in buying the business and in today’s transaction with Hony.

“PizzaExpress is stronger than ever and great credit for this goes to the teams there, who leave Gondola with our thanks and best wishes for the future.”

PizzaExpress chief executive Richard Hodgson said: “Today’s acquisition of PizzaExpress by Hony is a very positive development at an exciting time for the business.

“Asia is a key part of our future growth strategy and Hony’s expertise in this region will be invaluable. We are looking forward to working with them on this as well as our ambitious UK growth plans.”

Private equity fund Cinven bought PizzaExpress franchise owner Gondola in a public to private transaction in 2007 for 1.3bn euros. This is the latest sale of a Gondola asset after last year’s sale of UK burger restaurant chain Byron to Hutton Collins for £100m.

In recent years, growing numbers of Chinese investors have shown interest in UK companies.

Deals worth £14bn between Britain and China were signed last month, when Prime Minister David Cameron and premier Li Keqiang held talks in Downing Street. In June, the head of a Yorkshire-based institute which aims to strengthen business links between the UK and China praised an agreement to set up the first clearing bank for the renminbi currency outside Asia in London.

Dr Hinrich Voss, executive director of the Business Confucius Institute at Leeds University, told The Yorkshire Post that the establishment of the clearing bank is “a fantastic development” for the Sino-British economic relationship.

“Trade between the UK and China as well as investment between the countries can become easier and continue the positive development we have witnessed over the last years, ” he said.