ASK Italian and Zizzi’s new owner pumps in £70m but 75 restaurants axed

ASK Italian restaurant

Azzurri Group, operator of the ASK Italian and Zizzi restaurant chains and Coco di Mama food-to-go outlets, has been sold in a pre-pack administration to London-based international investment management firm TowerBrook Capital Partners.

The deal will see around 225 of the group’s sites continue to operate, but 75 will fall outside the scope of the transaction and subsequently close. Pod – which it acquired last year – will become a delivery-only brand.

Joint administrators KPMG, who were appointed on Friday, confirmed the closures would result in around 1,200 redundancies.

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The pre-pack administration enables the business to restructure its balance sheet and its operations to support future success.

Azzurri traded strongly prior to the coronavirus crisis, with 301 restaurants across its three brands in the Italian casual dining sector and the London food-to-go market.

Zizzi, ASK Italian and Coco di Mama all delivered good growth in like-for-like revenue and profit in the last financial year, consolidating the Group’s position as a market leader in the sector.

However, in line with the rest of the hospitality sector, Azzurri has faced unprecedented levels of disruption in recent months as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

At the outset of the crisis, the business acted swiftly to protect its employees and customers, deciding to close all restaurants ahead of the government’s lockdown.

Azzurri took all possible steps to protect the financial position of the business by ceasing all capex, renegotiating rental payments and food supplier costs and furloughing all restaurant staff and non-critical central staff.

Given the sharply altered circumstances since lockdown, advisers KPMG were also appointed to carry out a detailed evaluation of the group’s operational and financial position, which has resulted in today’s announcement.

London-based TowerBrook is a long-term investor with a commitment to responsible ownership. It has a strong track record of investing in consumer businesses, such as Phase Eight and Jimmy Choo and, in the food sector, Van Geloven, Studio Movie Grill, Wilton and KeHE Distributors.

To support Azzurri’s recovery from the Covid-19 crisis, TowerBrook has committed over £70m to restructure the balance sheet and provide capacity for future growth.

As a result of this process, which has been completed consensually with Azzurri’s lending banks, the group’s debt will reduce significantly.

This transaction allows the business to reopen at the right time, maximise its recovery in the period of social distancing ahead and to secure the long-term future of the business.

Azzurri will now begin to implement its rigorous plans to reopen an initial group of 40 ASK Italian and Zizzi restaurants next week, shortly followed by more restaurants and Coco di Mama sites later this summer. I

Steve Holmes, CEO of Azzurri Group, said: “The COVID-19 crisis has had a profound impact on the casual dining sector, bringing many businesses like ours to a standstill.

“Despite being a successful operator, the immediate loss of revenue during lockdown meant that we have had to make some incredibly difficult decisions to protect the business for the long term. It is with deep sadness that this process will result in the permanent closure of a number of sites and that we must say goodbye to greatly valued employees across our brands.

“Looking forwards, TowerBrook is a strong new partner who shares our ambitions for the future. Their additional investment has enabled us to preserve the majority of our restaurants, stores and jobs and I am confident that, under TowerBrook’s ownership, Azzurri will navigate the period ahead successfully. We look forward to welcoming customers back in the near future and to our next chapter with optimism.”

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Tags : Ask ItalianAzzurri Grouppre-pack administrationTowerBrook Capital Partners
Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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