The owner of Ask Italian and Zizzi pizza chains is to permanently close 75 restaurants with the loss of up to 1,200 jobs in the latest blow to the high street.
The closures form part of a rescue takeover of the Azzurri Group by TowerBrook Capital Partners, the investment firm that previously owned luxury brand Jimmy Choo and fashion chain Phase Eight in the UK. About 225 restaurants and shops are being bought by TowerBrook, protecting 5,000 jobs.
The closures come amid a shake-out in the casual dining sector leading to the loss of thousands of jobs. Restaurants had been suffering from heavy competition, rising costs and slowing interest from diners before they were closed for weeks under the high-street lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
It emerged on Thursday that Pizza Express is to close up to 75 restaurants as part of a rescue plan which could put more than 1,000 jobs at risk. Casual Dining Group, the owner of Bella Italia, Café Rouge, and Las Iguanas, permanently closed 91 outlets when it went into administration this month.
In June, the Restaurant Group, which owns Frankie & Benny’s and Garfunkel’s, said it would close up to 120 restaurants, with almost 3,000 jobs losses, while more than 1,000 Carluccio’s staff lost their jobs as part of a rescue deal in May.
Steve Holmes, the chief executive of Azzurri Group, which also owns the Coco di Mama and Pod fast-food chains, said: “The Covid-19 crisis has had a profound impact on the casual dining sector, bringing many businesses like ours to a standstill.
“Despite being a successful operator, the immediate loss of revenue during lockdown meant that we have had to make some incredibly difficult decisions to protect the business for the long term. It is with deep sadness that this process will result in the permanent closure of a number of sites and that we must say goodbye to greatly valued employees across our brands.”
TowerBrook is investing £70m to support Azzurri and plans to reopen 40 pizza restaurants next week, followed by its Coco di Mama chain and more Ask and Zizzi sites later in the summer. Pod will switch to delivery only.
The rescue deal, which involved putting the loss-making Azzurri group into administration, comes after owner Bridgepoint, which bought Ask and Zizzi for £250m in 2015, hired advisers at KPMG to look at options for the future its restaurant empire.
Holmes said TowerBrook was a “strong new partner”. He added: “I am confident that, under TowerBrook’s ownership, Azzurri will navigate the period ahead successfully. We look forward to welcoming customers back in the near future and to our next chapter with optimism.”