Tragus Holdings, the owner of Café Rouge and Bella Italia, has appointed a heavyweight corporate financier to looks at its future strategy, in a move that could lead to a £200m stock market flotation.
Tragus, led by chief executive Graham Turner and 85% owned by venture capital company Legal & General Ventures, has told Close Brothers to look at its strategic options.
Turner told Caterer Group's Chain Leader that these options included a "tertiary buy-out", in other words a third management buy-out, a trade sale or being sold or selling a stake to a rival venture capital or private equity company.
But it was clear an initial public offering (IPO) remains a strong possibility and probably L&G's preferred exit strategy, although Turner would not be drawn on a timeframe.
"There is, we feel, a potential IPO here, that is certainly something that we need to have a look at," he said.
Should Tragus, which now has 160 restaurants, go the IPO route it will be treading an increasingly well-worn path for restaurant groups.
Carluccio's, Gondola Holdings, Clapham House, La Tasca, Image Restaurants and Prezzo have all over the past two to three years put themselves at the mercy of the public markets, some more successfully than others.
Turner predicted money raised from any IPO - which some in the City have estimated could be worth between £200m and £250m - would initially be used to repay debt to existing shareholders but after that the company would be acquisition hungry.
By Nic Paton