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Sat 20th Jun 2020 - Exclusive: Luke Johnson among bidders for Bistrot Pierre
Exclusive – Luke Johnson among bidders for Bistrot Pierre: Serial sector investor Luke Johnson is among the interested parties bidding to take control of Bistrot Pierre, the Livingbridge-backed group, Propel has learned. Johnson, who is also an investor in companies such as Gail’s Bakery, Brighton Pier Group and All Star Lanes, is believed to be one of four parties to have shown an interest in the 25-strong group. London-based investment firm Inspirit Capital is also thought to have shown an interest in the Nick White-led business. It is thought a decision on the bids will be made next week, with Johnson’s bid thought to have been an early frontrunner. It is thought bids of about £4m have been made to take control of the business and see it through the lock-down period. The business, in which Livingbridge invested £9.8m in 2015, posted turnover of circa £35m in the year to June 2019, and Ebitda of circa £6.5m. Propel revealed earlier this month the company was working with KPMG to assesses its options. Propel understands none of the group’s sites, which are spread across England and Wales, are loss making. There are thought to be no onerous leases or sites tied to corporate landlords. One source close to the business said: “Government help is available, getting it is complex. To that end it is working with KPMG to frame its thinking on what the best approach is to unlocking that help and securing new funds.” It comes as the company recently reopened its site in Mumbles, Swansea, for takeaway, with the business understood to be encouraged by the level of trade achieved. Last November, the company opened its latest site at Eastbourne’s Wish Tower. It also has plans to open a beachside restaurant and bar on Worthing promenade, in West Sussex. It is thought interested parties are attracted to the company’s low rental costs and the fact some of the group’s site are near popular staycation locations, and should receive a boost over the coming months, government guidelines permitting. However, one possible negative is a large part of the group’s trade is generated from spend by those aged 55-plus during the week, a demographic that is thought maybe slower to return to previous eating-out habits post-lock-down. The business was founded in 1994 by school friends Robert Beacham and John Whitehead. 

Bids due for Azzurri Group: The sales process for ASK and Zizzi owner Azzurri Group has generated significant interest, with bids due next week. Propel understands private equity firm TowerBrook Capital Partners, which has offices in New York and London, is one of the circa 300-strong group’s main suitors, in what is thought will be a competitive bid process. KPMG has been advising the Stephen Holmes-led Azzurri on its options going forward and began inviting offers for the business earlier this month. A sale of the business is understood to be only one of the options Bridgepoint is considering for the future of the company, which it acquired at the end of 2014 for £250m. It is thought any successful bidder for the business, which also operates the central London-based Coco Di Mama brand, would need to make an initial circa £35m investment to provide the group with further liquidity to get through the lock-down and the reopening period. Like the majority of the sector, the company had already suspended payments to landlords and is using the furlough scheme to pay most of its staff. However, like some private equity-backed companies, it is yet to discover whether it is eligible for a business interruption loan. It is thought one option that was considered is a trimming of both its ASK and Zizzi estates, and a company voluntary arrangement process has not be ruled out. Chief executive Holmes told Propel last month: “As you know, before the crisis we were a very successful business delivering consistent like-for-like sales and profit growth. Since lock-down we have acted very quickly to put the business into hibernation and take out all costs possible, making sure particularly we did everything we could for our teams. Now hibernation has been successfully achieved we need to take action to secure the future of the business. The crisis has hit the whole sector hard and, as you would expect, we need to get the best advice possible as we look towards reopening.” Bridgepoint and Azzurri declined to comment.

Patrolled beer gardens and an ‘al fresco revolution’ to be part of sector measures: Patrolled beer gardens and legislation to encourage an “al fresco revolution” are to be part of guidelines published next week, as the government sets out its plans to unlock the hospitality sector. Prime minister Boris Johnson will announce next week – Propel understands this could be Tuesday (23 June) – the two-metre rule will be relaxed from 4 July and pubs, restaurants, cafes and attractions can reopen as he attempts to revive the economy. The guidance drawn up by the government and the hospitality industry will also be published as Britain embarks on a “new normal”. Separately, ministers will publish legislation next week to encourage an “al fresco revolution”, writes The Times. Every pub, bar and restaurant will be automatically entitled to serve alcohol for people to drink on the pavement and in the street. Propel revealed a set of draft guidelines earlier this month, with the majority set to be included in the finalised document, including operators being asked to define the maximum number of customers that can reasonably follow social distancing at the venue, payment with contactless card being encouraged, and also show no specific requirement, with tables “spaced widely apart”. Customers will be discouraged from ordering pints at the bar and drinks will be delivered to tables. If customers do hang around the bar, they may be asked to move on. After finishing a round, it will no longer be polite to return used glasses, which will instead be collected from tables. Laminated menus will be replaced with single-use, disposable menus and condiments will be served in sachets on request. The guidelines are also set to state waiters may also make use of menu boards but there will be fewer options than usual as chefs will try to minimise cross-contamination of ingredients. Plates will be cleared by staff wearing gloves, or at the very least, waiters will be asked to wash their hands each time they serve a different table. In regards to hotels, The Times report states doormen will remind new arrivals that they must observe social distancing and receptionists will take a couple of steps back when guests check in. Porters will still be able to carry bags to guests’ rooms but will have to leave them outside. Rather than taking the lift, people will be encouraged to climb the stairs. Even if hotel restaurants reopen, visitors could still be urged to use room service. Food will be delivered on trays left outside in the corridors that staff will regularly collect. If a guest falls ill while staying at a hotel, they will be asked to self-isolate in their room and meals will be sent up on disposable plates. The room will then be cordoned off for 72 hours after the person has recovered. In terms of nightclubs, which will probably not be able to reopen any time soon, the guidance notes dance floors are “a challenging area to operate under any form of physical-distancing requirements”. One possible solution given is “entry checks”. This could mean clubbers wash their hands with sanitiser before coming in and have their temperatures taken at the door. Queues outside nightclubs will be spaced out with markings. At the same time, the report states the government will next week table legislation that will automatically allow any venue with an alcohol licence to sell drinks for people to take away. It will also include plans to fast-track approval for outlets setting up tables and chairs on pavements outside their premises in a bid to encourage people to drink outside. The government will also drop the 28-day consultation period for cafes, bars and restaurants setting up seating outside.

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