Pret A Manger owner to buy Caring’s Cote

Kasmira Jefford
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BRIDGEPOINT is close to making a £100m swoop for Cote, the French restaurant group backed by the business tycoon Richard Caring.

The private equity firm, which owns sandwich chain Pret A Manger and clothing retailer Fat Face, emerged this weekend as the frontrunner to buy the fast-growing bistro group.

A deal, if successful, will have seen Bridgepoint beat off competition from other buyout firms including TA Associates and Investcorp, who are also reportedly seeking to buy the chain.

Cote was founded in 2007 by Andy Bassadone and Chris Benians, who launched Strada, the Italian restaurant chain. Strada was also backed by Caring before being sold on to restaurant firm Tragus.

Caring is best-known for owning some of London glitziest restaurants, including The Ivy and Le Caprice. He is thought to have made an original investment of £8m in Cote in 2007.

The chain was put up for sale at the end of last year with Canaccord Genuity appointed to manage the process.

Cote has grown rapidly over the past six years to around 40 restaurants, with around half of these located in London. It has recently acquired sites in York and Tunbridge Wells and plans to open a further 12 sites this year.

The most recent set of accounts on Companies House show it made a 225 per cent increase in profits in 2011, making it one of the fastest growing UK restaurant businesses.

Bridgepoint invests in a number of consumer businesses. As well as Pret and Fat Face, it also owns controlling stakes in Hobbycraft, the retail chain, and Wiggle, the online cycling and sports goods retailer, which it acquired in 2011.

All parties declined to comment last night.