Belgo reveals US joint venture plan

Belgo, the restaurant operator chaired by Pizza Express millionaire Luke Johnson which is famed for its mussels and strong Belgian beers, yesterday announced plans to set up a chain across America.

It is close to tying up a joint venture with Apple South, a large US restaurant group, to open up to 20 new sites across the Atlantic.

Belgo's wants to open its first US restaurant in New York by the spring of next year and is already looking for new premises.

Andy Bassadone, Belgo's chief executive, said: "This is a good opportunity for Belgo to enter the US market while minimising the risks. Anything European is popular in the US at the moment and this is a great opportunity for us."

Luke Johnson engineered the pounds 9.8m acquisition of Belgo last month via Lonsdale Holdings, the quoted cash shell which he took control of last year. At the moment the group has just two restaurants, both in London. However, Belgo is planning to open up to 20 new restaurants around the UK. It is also looking to expand into Europe by seeking national franchising partners. Belgo is even considering cashing in on the growing popularity of its super-strength Belgian beers by opening continental-style beer halls.

Apple South is hoping to introduce some of its brands to the UK market. It operates more than 400 restaurants in the US with an annual turnover of US$750m. Its brands include McCormick & Schmick's seafood restaurants, Western-themed Canyon Cafes and the Mexican Don Pablo's chain, It recently took a 20 per cent stake in Belgo for pounds 3.7m but has no plans to launch a full takeover of the UK group.

- Andrew Yates

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