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Mon 4th May 2015 - Telegraph – Las Iguanas and La Tasca in play
Telegraph – Las Iguanas and La Tasca in play: Private equity firms are running the rulers over the Latin American dining chain Las Iguanas, the Daily Telegraph has reported. The company’s owner, Bowmark Capital, is thought to have attached a £100m price tag to Las Iguanas, which has 38 UK sites. The Telegraph reported that Bridgepoint Capital, the owner of Ask and Zizzi, Graphite, the backer of the Groucho Club, ECI, which signed a deal to buy Evans Cycles last week, and Equistone, owner of the upmarket travel agent Audley Travel, are thought to be considering bids. Bowmark paid just under £30m for the business in 2007. Las Iguanas is currently led by chief executive Mos Shamel, who took over from the former head of Wagamama boss, last year when Hill left the business just three months after joining. Eren Ali, who founded Las Iguanas in Bristol in 1991, remains chairman. Turnover at Las Iguanas rose 18% to £48.36m in the 52 weeks to 29 March 2014, up from £40.95m the year before. Pre-tax profit was up 2.2%, at £4m, from £3.92m in 2012/13. Underling pre-tax profit, however, was up 13% to £4.9m, an increase of £600,000 over 2013. The company said of these results: “The business continues to perform very well, delivering yet another year of positive like-for-like sales and profit growth, despite being up against the successes of last year, when it benefited from the 2012 Olympics. The chain continued its expansion plans, opening six sites in the year with a further six planned for the 2014/15 financial year.” Las Iguanas said its rollout programme continues, with “the opportunity to grow the business beyond 100 sites within the UK”. The venture began when Eren Ali bought a failed Italian restaurant in Bristol. He and his business partner Ajith Jayawickrema turned it into a Latin concept and renamed it Las Iguanas. Piper Private Equity bought a minority stake in 2002, helping the business expand from four to 14 restaurants. Five years later, Piper exited the business with a six-times multiple return on its investment. At the time of the acquisition, led by Bowmark Capital, the chain was valued at £27m. Jayawickrema has gone on to create the Caribbean concept Turtle Bay Restaurants, which currently has investment from Piper. Meanwhile, the Sunday Telegraph has reported that Prezzo and Casual Dining Group could compete to buy the Spanish-themed chain La Tasca, where an auction process is due to begin shortly. Casual Dining Group, formerly known as Tragus, was rebranded during a financial restructuring last year. Its chief executive, Steve Richards, told the Propel Multi Club Conference in March that the company was looking to add a third brand to Cafe Rouge and Bella Italia. Prezzo, led by Jonathan Kaye, was taken private by TPG in a £300m deal at the start of this year and is thought to be keen to expand. The Sunday Telegraph reported that La Tasca’s owners, the Icelandic bank Kaupthing and the German lender Commerzbank, have hired advisers at BDO to launch an auction within weeks. The business has been turned around under chief executive Simon Wilkinson, who replaced frozen food with fresh produce and started working directly with Spanish suppliers to create more a more authentic experience. In November 2014, La Tasca reported that its like-for-like sales were up 5% in the current financial year, with 96% ebitda growth. In the year to 23 February 2014, overall turnover was £44.95m, down 11.7% from £50.91m the year before after pruning of the chain's tail-end outlets.

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