Luke Johnson sinks his teeth into new deal

LUKE Johnson, the entrepreneur behind Italian restaurants Strada and Pizza Express, is set to buy struggling dental care chain James Hull.

A source close to the deal told City A.M. that Johnson, chair of private equity firm Risk Capital Partners, is in advanced talks with the high-end dentistry firm over a takeover.

The recession has not been kind to James Hull, which has seen its debts rack up as fewer people choose to spend on cosmetic dental procedures.

The deal, thought to be worth around $10m (£6.4m), would not be the first dental practice in Johnson’s portfolio.

The Oxford medicine graduate founded Intergrated Dental Holdings in 1996 and sold it ten years later for over £100m after growing it to become the largest UK chain of dental surgeries.

But the dental deal could be seen as an ironic addition to Johnson’s current portfolio, which is largely full of food-based firms.

The former Pizza Express chairman, who multiplied the Italian high street chain’s value more than twentyfold, also founded Signature Restaurants – owner of The Ivy and Le Caprice – and is currently chairman and part owner of Baker and Spice, Giraffe and Patisserie Valerie.

Johnson, former chairman of Channel 4, is also a prominent contributor to severeal arts groups.

James Hull was founded in 1987 by its eponymous former boss who was forced to resign in 2009 after an investor row over his expenses.