Fourth investor enters frame to buy Gaucho chain

Restauranteur Luke Johnson, known for his involvement with Pizza Express, Giraffe and The Ivy, has reportedly thrown his hat in the ring to purchase Argentine steakhouse chain Gaucho, after it slipped into administration last month.

Gaucho went into administration in July

As reported by Sky News, Johnson is among those at the table seeking to make a bid on the brand.

Johnson sat on the board at Gaucho until last November, with a deal meaning a return to the chain for the restaurateur. He also co-owns Patisserie Holdings, which itself owns the Patisserie Valerie chain, and Bread Holdings, which owns the Gail’s chain of bakeries.

His past endeavours include the purchase of Pizza Express in 1993, which he grew from 12 restaurants to over 150, before selling in 1999, after which he founded Signature Restaurants, which owned The Ivy, J.Sheekey and Le Caprice, as well as the Belgo chain. He sold that business in 2005. In 2000 he founded Strada, taking the chain to 30 restaurants before selling the business in 2006.

Another interested party is the Carlyle Group, according to Sky, which last year bought Accolade Wines for AU$1 billion, and this year bought a €390m majority stake in the Spanish Cava producer Codorniu.  

Osmond Capital, the company owned by Hugh Osmond, best known for his involvement with Pizza Express and founding of Punch Taverns, has also been reported to be interested in buying the chain.

A fourth bidder is believed to be the UK team of special situations investor Aurelius Equity Opportunities, according to Sky.

Gaucho went into administration in July with high debt levels tied to the “ongoing underperformance” of its sister chain Cau blamed, as well as ongoing competition in the London restaurant scene and rising costs.

Around two restaurants per week have closed in the UK over the past year to March, according to CGA’s market report.

The chain’s owners, private equity firm Equistone had presented lenders with a number of solvency solutions for its 16-sites and sister chain, Cau, as previously reported, but to no avail.

Gaucho operates 13 restaurants in the UK and three overseas in Hong Kong, Dubai and Buenos Aires. It is renowned in the UK not only for its steak, but its promotion of Argentine wine, led by its former director of wine Phil Crozier, who left his position to take up an ambassadorial role with Wines of Argentina earlier this year.

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