Pizza Express staff in Belfast face uncertain future

Pizza Express operates five branches in the north, all in Belfast. Picture by Tim Goode/PA Wire.
Ryan McAleer and PA

STAFF at five Pizza Express restaurants in Belfast face an uncertain future after the company announced it is considering shutting 15 per cent of all outlets.

The move by the food chain would see around 67 of its 449 UK restaurants close, putting 1,100 jobs at risk.

Pizza Express said it plans to launch a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) "in the near future", but added that the final outcome of the restructuring has "yet to be decided".

The company has five restaurants in Northern Ireland. Despite harbouring plans to spread across the north in recent years, it has yet to expand beyond Belfast.

The firm's managing director in Ireland and the UK is Fermanagh-born Zoe Bowley.

"While the financial restructuring is a positive step forward, at the same time we have had to make some really tough decisions,” she said on Monday.

"As a result, it is with a heavy heart that we expect to permanently close a proportion of our restaurants, losing valued team members in the process."

Pizza Express, which is majority-owned by Chinese firm Hony Capital, said it has also hired advisers from Lazard to lead a sale process for the business.

The company closed all of its UK restaurants on March 23 after the UK Government-mandated lockdown, before starting a phased reopening of sites last month.

It said the coronavirus pandemic has been a "huge setback" for the restaurant sector but it believes the turnaround plan "will put the business on a stronger financial footing in the new socially distanced environment".

Customer demand has been "encouraging" since sites reopened, with 166 outlets now open across the UK, it said.

The restructuring will also involve a "significant" de-leveraging of the group's external debt, reducing it from £735m to £319m, and extending maturities.

It also said the move could potentially result in "the transfer of majority ownership of the group to its secured noteholders".

Pizza Express also plans to sell its business in mainland China, where it runs 60 restaurants.

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