A Chinese private equity company has bought PizzaExpress from Gondola Holdings for £900m - the biggest deal in the European restaurant sector for five years.
Hony Capital announced that it had reached an agreement to buy the casual dining brand which has 436 UK sites and 68 internationally earlier today.
A total of 22 of those sites are in China, with 12 in Hong Kong, nine in Shanghai and one in Beijing.
The PizzaExpress business was taken private seven years ago, and since then Gondola has added over 130 PizzaExpress restaurants in the UK, growing EBITDA from around £60m to around £90m. It re-acquired the PizzaExpress international brand rights in 2010.
Chief executive Richard Hodgson is expected to remain with the business and Hony Capital said it would continue to drive both UK and international growth.
John Zhao, chief executive of Hony Capital, said: "Hony Capital is delighted to have acquired PizzaExpress, a well-established and exciting brand. We have built a strong track record in helping Chinese enterprises to expand globally. With PizzaExpress, we have the opportunity to leverage our local expertise to accelerate its growth in the Chinese market, as well as to continue to drive its business forward in the UK."
Harvey Smyth, chief executive of the Gondola Group, added: "PizzaExpress is an iconic brand in the UK restaurant sector with a strong and growing international presence. This has been reflected in the considerable interest we received in buying the business and in today's transaction with Hony. PizzaExpress is stronger than ever and great credit for this goes to the teams there, who leave Gondola with our thanks and best wishes for the future."
The sale of PizzaExpress is the second sale of a major restaurant brand by Gondola Holdings to a private equity company in recent months, after it sold burger brand Byron to Hutton Collins for £100m in late 2013.