La Tasca in talks to sell business

13 February 2007 by
La Tasca in talks to sell business

The private equity group behind Café Rouge and Bella Italia is being tipped by the City as the most likely candidate to be circling casual dining chain La Tasca.

The tapas-bar chain said last week that it was in discussions with a possible suitor, but stressed talks were "at a very early stage and there is no guarantee that any offer will be forthcoming".

Speculation in the City has focused on Blackstone Group, the private equity firm that recently bought Café Rouge and Bella Pasta owner Tragus.

According to some analysts Blackstone is said to have approached La Tasca with an indicative offer of between 180p and 190p a share, which would value the business at more than £88m.

But it is not the only possible candidate in the frame. PPM Capital, the private equity owner of Chez Gérard and Caffé Uno, has been mooted as a contender, as has Cinven, which recently bought Gondola Holdings, which operates the Pizza Express, Ask and Zizzi chains.

However Blackstone may well be a good fit for La Tasca. Through Tragus it already has an upmarket tapas-format restaurant in the shape of Ortega and analysts believe any takeover bid could lead to an upgrading of the La Tasca brand as a result.

La Tasca currently has some 70 restaurants, of which 60 trade as La Tasca with the rest split between its La Viña and Sam & Maxie's brands.

Tragus has more than 160 restaurants, of which just over half trade as Café Rouge.

La Tasca chief executive James Horler is also understood to have appointed accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers to advise on strategic options, which could include a management buyout or merger not just an outright sale.

Analysts have also suggested that, if a bidding war starts, the price could go as high as 200p a share, taking its value to more than £100m, with the company's strong track record and brand name in the City making it an appealing target.

By Nic Paton

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