Coronavirus: Former TGI Friday's owner puts Cafe Rouge on menu

12 July 2020, 16:19 | Updated: 12 July 2020, 17:40

A former backer of TGI Friday's is in detailed talks to buy the stricken restaurant operator behind the Cafe Rouge and Las Iguanas chains.

Sky News has learnt that Epiris, whose current investments include the auction house Bonhams, has emerged in recent days as a frontrunner to buy Casual Dining Group (CDG) out of administration.

Sources said a deal had yet to be finalised but could be struck in the coming days.

Other bidders, including the activist hedge fund Elliott Advisers, have also lodged an interest in buying CDG.

The restaurant group, which also owns Bella Italia, fell into administration earlier this month as it became the latest industry victim of the coronavirus pandemic.

Other investors have tabled bids for individual chains within CDG, although Epiris is now said to be the leading contender to buy the whole group.

Epiris had also made an offer for Azzurri, the owner of ASK Italian and Zizzi, but appears to have lost out to Towerbrook Capital Partners, another buyout firm.

AlixPartners is overseeing CDG's insolvency process, announcing ten days ago that 91 of its 250 sites would close immediately with the loss of one-third of its 6000-strong workforce.

In a statement on July 2, James Spragg, CDG chief executive, said: "After reviewing all our options with advisors, it became clear that we needed to take this action in order to protect the business and secure the best possible future for Casual Dining Group as we look to conclude a potential sale.

"Working alongside the administrators we will do everything we can to support them through this process with a view to preserving as much employment as we are able to."

CDG's collapse into administration has come during the most turbulent period in Britain's casual dining industry, with hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk as a consequence of the pandemic.

Byron, the burger chain, filed a notice of intention to appoint administrators as it races to find new owners, while Prezzo has put itself up for sale.

Other well-known names, including Carluccio's, have been unable to stave off collapse - although part of its business, and the brand, have since been salvaged.

AlixPartners declined to comment, while Epiris was contacted for comment.