Costa Coffee is to get a new managing director after the head of the coffee shops chain quit to join Tragus, the debt-laden company behind the Café Rouge, Strada and Bella Italia restaurants.
Chris Rogers, the group finance director of Whitbread, which owns the the 2177-stores coffee specialist and the budget hotel chain Premier Inn, is to take the helm at Costa in August. Costa has posted more than 40 consecutive quarters of underlying sales growth.
Mr Rogers will replace John Derkach, who is leaving to be chief executive of Tragus, which last month refinanced its £230m debts to avoid an expected breach of its banking covenants.
The heavyweight hiring sparked renewed speculation that Whitbread may eventually seek to spin off Costa. But Andy Harrison, the chief executive of the group, said yesterday: "Costa has an exciting future within Whitbread and Chris will spearhead our ambitious growth plans."
Shore Capital estimates Costa could potentially be worth more than £1bn, or £6 a Whitbread share.
The private-equity giant Blackstone, which has owned Tragus since 2006, pumped £15m into the company to reduce its overall debt pile in March.
The refinancing saw the 295-restaurants company given more headroom on its debts and the full backing of its lenders, including ICG, although Tragus paid a fee of £1.1m for the loan agreement and faces higher interest payments.
Costa, which has nearly 1,400 stores in the UK, grew its total by 25 per cent over the 50 weeks to 16 February.