Bass moves upmarket with Browns restaurants acquisition

Bass yesterday made its first move into the upmarket restaurant sector as it tied up the acquisition of Browns, the chain that is best known for its grand locations.

Bass plans a rapid expansion of the Browns chain, opening new sites across the country, after completing its purchase yesterday. It is already in advanced discussions on two sites in Edinburgh and Bath.

The financial details of the deal have not been disclosed but it is understood the final figure agreed on is around pounds 35m and will make Jeremy Mogford, the group's founder, a restaurant millionaire many times over. Mr Mogford is staying on as a non-executive director of Browns to preside over its expansion plans.

Tim Clarke, chief executive of Bass Taverns, said: "Browns' management team together with Bass Taverns' resources gives us opportunities to further develop this highly regarded brand."

Mr Mogford opened the first Browns in The Lanes in Brighton in 1973 at the age of 23. The second came three years later in Oxford. Restaurants in Cambridge and Bristol followed.

The chain came to London three years ago and in August 1996 its biggest restaurant so far opened its doors at St Martin's Lane near Trafalgar Square with 350 seats, private rooms seating another 250 and a cocktail bar.

The deal marks the latest attempt by the brewing industry to cash in on the huge expansion of the eating out market, which is forecast to continue to grow rapidly over the next few years. So far Bass Taverns has been restricted to developing pub chains with extensive food menus such as All Bar One.

The deal is Bass's first acquisition since completing a huge disposal programme which involved the sale of its Gala bingo division, its tenanted pub estate and most recently the Coral betting chain.

This period of frenetic corporate activity is far from over. Analysts believe Bass is sitting on a war chest of more than pounds 2bn and is targeting large hotel groups in the Far East.

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