Loch Fyne is to take over the management of the four Le Petit Blanc brasseries in Cheltenham, Oxford, Birmingham and Manchester with immediate effect, following the £1.1m deal that leaves Raymond Blanc in partnership with the oyster bar chain after his seven-year-old chain went into receivership in April.
The expanding Loch Fyne Restaurants struck the deal last week to rescue Le Petit Blanc from administration, with Blanc and his management team retaining a 25% share.
"It is the very best conclusion we could hope for," Blanc told Caterer. He will share the stake with Le Petit Blanc's current managing director, Kieran Mallon, and executive chef Clive Fretwell. Blanc will continue to oversee the food, develop the chef and kitchen team and participate in marketing the chain.
Mark Derry, managing director of Loch Fyne Restaurants, expected the deal to be completed within six weeks. The chain, a joint venture between Blanc and Orient-Express Hotels, attracted 10 serious bids after being put up for sale by the administrators. Loch Fyne's bid has trumped a second shortlisted offer, believed to have been from Madisons.
Despite a healthy turnover, Blanc said the chain had been crippled by central costs, which Loch Fyne's centralised systems could reduce by 50-75%. He described his new partner as a "successful, experienced, forward-thinking company that will help us realise the potential of the business".
"It will be beneficial for us to work with a proven restaurant company that has expanded profitably throughout the UK," said Blanc. "I look forward to continuing my vision of bringing the best of provincial French cuisine to the UK."
"We have been seeking a second brand for some time, particularly as there are signs that sentiment is changing within the financial community, favouring companies with more than one brand," said Derry.
Loch Fyne has grown from three to 21 sites in four years, and last year turned in sales of £15m and pre-tax profits of £250,000. It will open at least three new sites this year.
Loch Fyne will spend this year making Le Petit Blanc profitable, and Derry said major inroads had already been made. Next year it will start seeking new sites which, like the current branches, will tap into relatively affluent areas with a strong corporate sector.
If conditions are right, Loch Fyne Restaurants will consider floating or selling the company from April 2005.
By Angela Frewin