The pub and restaurant group founded by Raymond Blanc is to step up the pace of new openings after changing hands for an estimated £40 million.
Brasserie Bar Co, which owns the Brasserie Blanc and White Brasserie Co brands, will say today that it has been acquired by Alchemy Partners for an undisclosed sum from Soho Square Capital, a rival private equity firm.
The Michelin-starred television chef, who is 72, is understood to have crystallised the minority stake he held under Soho Square (formerly Core Capital), although he is retaining an interest and will remain involved with the business after the deal.
The company said that the transaction would underpin its plans to accelerate the growth of White Brasserie Co, its pubs business, from 18 sites to 70. Alchemy is said to be keen to take on both freehold and leasehold pubs, which could push its investment over the five-year growth plan to as high as £100 million.
Brasserie Bar Co started life in 1996 in Oxford as Le Petit Blanc with the aim of bringing high-quality French cuisine to a wider audience. In 2003 it briefly fell into administration, but was rescued by Mark Derry, the boss of Loch Fyne Restaurants, which he sold to Greene King in 2007. Today, Brasserie Bar Co has 14 brasseries as well as its 18 pubs, with a total of 1,300 employees serving an average of 34,000 diners a week.
Derry, who remains its executive chairman, said that although the focus of expansion would be the pubs business, the group could “selectively do some brasseries if the perfect sites come up”.
The group’s sale and ambitious expansion plans represent a change of fortunes for the business, which during the coronavirus outbreak sold five sites that were struggling. “I honestly did not think we’d make it through the pandemic,” Derry said. “Our insurers were refusing to pay out, we had more creditors than cash and quite a big debt burden.”
Today, the picture is much more positive, despite a hit from the Omicron variant. Derry said that trading was back up to 2019 levels, its insurer had paid out on a business interruption policy and it was in negotiations to acquire a number of new sites. He said that while the group’s restaurants in London had some way to go to get back to pre-Covid levels, the picture was improving rapidly, while its regional pubs and restaurants were trading strongly.
Derry, 61, and his team are believed to be reinvesting most of the proceeds from the sale in the business, which with incentives will give them a combined holding of about 20 per cent.