By Angela Frewin
A consortium of Pierre Victoire franchisees claims its offer for part of the collapsed restaurant chain is "the only real option for the receiver", because legal loopholes in the franchise agreements would allow it to wreck any other deal.
But receiver Grant Thornton, which wants to sell the chain as a whole, denies the claim and accuses the group of trying to deter other bidders.
It has received one offer for the entire business, and expects a few more before settling on a buyer within weeks.
A group of 13 franchisees has set up a company called Bellecover to make a bid for the Pierre Victoire name plus the best 40 sites among the 83 franchised and 25 owned restaurants. It is being advised by franchise law experts Field Fisher Waterhouse (FFW) and KPMG Corporate Finances.
FFW partner Mark Abell insists that the franchises cannot be transferred without the consent of franchisees, and that the law would allow them to dissolve the agreements and sue Pierre Victoire for damages.
He claims the chain's failure was due to autocratic rule and too rapid an expansion, often into unsuitable sites. "A buy-out by franchisees is a tried-and-tested method of rescuing a failed but viable business," added Abell.
But a spokesman for Grant Thornton foresaw a greater legal minefield resulting from the 68 restaurants left without a name if Bellecover were to succeed in its bid.