When we acquired the business in 2003, PizzaExpress was a popular brand and a market leader in the UK casual dining sector. It operated in the premium/authentic sector of the eat-in pizza/pasta market, in a variety of locations across the UK.
Under our ownership, PizzaExpress was merged with ASK Central (“ASK”) to create a leading casual dining group with over 500 restaurants throughout the UK operating under the PizzaExpress, ASK and Zizzi brands, and serving more than 30 million customer meals each year.
Since its listing in 1993, PizzaExpress had been a ‘darling’ of the markets, with a record of unbroken growth. However, by 2002 public market perception of the group had turned negative due to a significant weakening in like-for-like sales and a lack of confidence in the business’ strategy.
Our significant experience in the leisure sector, our operational resources and our relationship with one of the co-founders of the business allowed us to develop a differentiated strategy and assessment of the value of PizzaExpress. Alongside co-investor Capricorn Ventures, we completed the public-to-private of the business in June 2003.
What we did
Post-acquisition we kick-started a 'back-to-basics' operational transformation plan, which resulted in improved customer experience and sales growth, through launching a new menu, introducing mystery shopping and optimising staff incentives.
In 2004 we acquired ASK, one of PizzaExpress' main competitors, to create the clear market leader in the casual dining sector.
After the acquisition of ASK, we worked with management to strategically reposition each of the brands to drive sales, developing a co-location strategy and executing on geographical roll-out opportunities.
How we exited
In November 2005 we led a successful IPO of Gondola Holdings (the combined group) on the London Stock Exchange. In December 2006 we fully realised the investment.