Deep Pan Pizza chain to disappear

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The Independent Online
DEEP PAN Pizza restaurants, best known for offering "all you can eat" deals for hungry punters, are set to disappear from the high street.

The move comes in response to a sharp fall in profits at the chain caused by the growing trend for customers to dine out on more exotic and upmarket food.

City Centre Restaurants, which owns the troubled chain, has decided to scrap the Deep Pan Pizza name and create a new upmarket chain of pizza restaurants.

It is also looking to sell some sites or convert them to other restaurant brands.

James Naylor, chief executive of City Centre, said yesterday: "The brand was becoming dated. Thin crust pizzas are becoming more popular, with fewer people eating deep pan."

There are currently 89 Deep Pan Pizza restaurants around the UK.

City Centre plans to keep the 35 sites which are located alongside out- of-town leisure centres. They will still sell pizzas but rename the restaurants and introduce higher class menus.

About 30 high street sites will be used to house City Centre's other restaurants such as Caffe Uno while the remaining restaurants will be sold.

City Centre revealed it had received tentative offers for all its high street sites and would consider selling them if it received an attractive offer. "We could sell the restaurants if we get the right price, but it is very early days at the moment," said Mr Naylor.

City Centre has already had to install new management at Deep Pan Pizza after profits from the chain fell pounds 2m last year. The group blames poor management, huge discounting and larger menus which added to costs, for the shortfall.

The result was an improvement in the chain's performance but not enough to justify its continued existence. The chain will be phased out over the next few years.

Despite the problems at Deep Pan, City Centre unveiled a 4 per cent rise in pre-tax profits to pounds 17.5m for the year to December.

Mr Naylor said the group planned to open at least another 46 restaurants this year.

City Centre is planning an aggressive expansion of its Caffe Uno Italian style eateries, opening another 15 in the next 12 months.

New chains such as Frankie & Benny's, based on a New York in the 1950s theme, and Wok Wok, which specialises in modern Asian food, are proving a success and will also be rolled out rapidly.

Last year's acquisition of Est Est Est, the North of England Italian chain, has exceeded expectations and another six restaurants are due to open soon.

City Centre denied the restaurant market was becoming overcrowded after an explosion in openings in recent years.

Mr Naylor said: "The eating out market is set to continue growing very fast ... driven by lifestyle changes. As people age they are turning away from McDonald's and eating out in restaurants."

City Centre's shares, which fell sharply after a recent profit warnings prompted by Deep Pan's problems, recovered 6.5p to 118p yesterday.

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