City Centre set for merger with Ask

City Centre Restaurants yesterday admitted it had been stalking Ask Central, as it unveiled plans to merge with the pizza chain.

The Kaye family, who founded Ask and controls 11 per cent of the stock, plans to back the deal, which analysts said could value the pizza chain at up to £190m.

In a joint statement last night, issued after the stock market had closed, the companies said a merger would be at "a premium to [Ask's] current share price". Ask shares had already soared 23.5p to 166p after the company confirmed it had received a bid approach. The bid would be a mixture of City Centre shares and cash, and subject to the normal due diligence process, the companies said.

It is understood that Adam and Sam Kaye, Ask's chief executive and operations director, plan to remain involved in an enlarged business, although it is not clear what roles they would take. The pair recently sold 6 million shares in Ask, reducing their stakes to just under 4 per cent apiece. A merger would unite restaurant brands such as Frankie and Benny's, the Fifties-themed diner, Zizzi, the wood-fired pizza chain, and Chiquito, which is styled on a Mexican cantina.