Ex-chairman of Pizza Express sinks £40m into Red Hot World Buffet chain and cruise holiday booking website
The former Pizza Express chairman Luke Johnson has invested around £40m in an all-you-can eat buffet chain and a cruise booking website.
The investments, in about two-thirds of the shares in Cruise.co.uk, an online holiday website, and Red Hot World Buffet, a Nottingham-based restaurant chain, made via Risk Capital Partners, come just months after Johnson’s financial vehicle sold its stake in the Giraffe restaurant chain to Tesco. Each investment is worth about £20m.
Manjit Kaur and Kashmira Singh, parents of Red Hot World’s founder, Pammie Dhaliwal, who mortgaged their home to help to fund the first outlet, will become multimillionaires after selling their majority stake for an estimated £18m.
Red Hot World Buffet already has seven restaurants, including outlets in Cardiff, Milton Keynes and Northampton. Risk Capital will provide the cash to upgrade the existing estate and open an eighth site, in Leicester, in 2014.
Johnson said he believed Red Hot World could at least double in size as it had taken the all-you-can-eat concept “to a new level” in terms of quality.
The buffet chain will sit alongside a suite of eateries held by Risk Capital including Patisserie Valerie and Gail’s bakeries.
The company also holds stakes in APT Controls, a supplier of car park equipment, and Tile Depot.
Cruise.co, Johnson’s first travel industry venture, handles 65,000 cruise passengers every year and is host to a forum where holidaymakers can research detailed information and ask questions on cruise lines’ inventories and pricing.
Risk Capital bought out the Birmingham-based private equity firm Forward Group, who backed a 2007 management buyout of the company from Carnival Corporation, the cruise operator.
Johnson said: “The travel market is an exciting opportunity for us and we’ll be looking at more companies in that segment. Cruises are a growth area as consumers like the idea that they can get everything in one package.”
Risk Capital is aiming to help Cruise.co, whose management team will stay on, to expand into new markets, particularly Ireland and Australia.
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