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Pizza Express to close dozens of restaurants

Oliver Gill
·2-min read
A Pizza Express restaurant in London
A Pizza Express restaurant in London

Pizza Express is preparing to shut dozens of restaurants as Britain's biggest casual dining chain grapples with the fallout from coronavirus and a cumbersome £1.1bn debt pile.

About 75 of the chain's 470 UK outlets are under threat as it races to restructure its finances. 

Formal talks with landlords over the closures, first reported by Sky News, are due to begin next week. 

The radical action comes as bondholders seek to take control of the Chinese-owned firm.

Hony Capital originally fended off attempts by lenders, which raised the prospect of closures and a debt-for-equity swap with the loss-making company last year.

The Beijing-based private equity house bought up tens of millions of pounds of bonds earlier this year and in March secured £70m of additional funding from distressed debt fund HPS.

However, talks between senior lenders, owed £465m and due to be repaid in little more than a year, were re-opened after the coronavirus pandemic hit. Discussions are understood to be consensual. 

The lending group, advised by US boutique bank Perella Weinberg and believed to include the hedge funds such as Cyrus Capital and HIG Bayside, want to shut stores as part of a wider plan to put the business back on a firmer footing.

The casual dining sector, under pressure after years of oversupply prior to the pandemic, has been brought to its knees as Britain went into lockdown.

Pizza Express: A slice of history
Pizza Express: A slice of history

A slew of brands such as Cafe Rouge, Bella Italia, Byron, Zizzi, Carluccios and Prezzo are at risk of being erased from the high street as their owners either file for administration or put the businesses up for sale. 

Pizza Express was bought by Hony for £900m in 2014. It has more than 600 restaurants globally and employs 14,000 people – more than half in the UK. 

The closures are expected to be rammed through using a company voluntary arrangement, an insolvency process where creditors agree to write-off debts to save a business.

Pizza Express declined to comment.