Eat food chain to expand after buyout by Lyceum

The private equity firm Lyceum Capital has acquired Eat, the sandwich and coffee chain, in a management buyout deal and vowed to triple its number of UK shops to more than 300 and launch overseas.

The 110-store chain's previous backers, Penta Capital, put Eat up for sale for about £100m in early 2010 and the grocer Waitrose is thought to have considered a bid but a deal never materialised. But interest in the process was rekindled and Lyceum Capital has now bought more than a 50 per cent stake in Eat, most of it from Penta for an undisclosed sum. It is thought that Penta held a similarly sized minority stake of around 45 per cent to that of Niall and Faith MacArthur, the husband and wife founders. They founded Eat in 1996, opened their first shop close to London's Trafalgar Square and have remained at the helm.

Following Lyceum's purchase, Mr and Mrs MacArthur will keep their existing roles of managing director and brand director, respectively, as well as a more than a 40 per cent shareholding.

Mr MacArthur said: "This deal marks the next major stage in Eat's development and will be the catalyst for an expansion programme that will see us extend our reach throughout the UK." He added: "We are as enthusiastic now as we were on day one. We want to grow the business to a really exciting national brand."

Alongside management and its founders, Lyceum said it would invest in the busines to "accelerate" a store opening programme in the UK, which will initially see Eat add a further 100 stores over the next four years in the £3bn specialist food and coffee "to go" market. By doubling in size, Eat will create 1,500 jobs. But Lyceum said that Eats could "support well over 300 branches" in the UK and vowed to launch outlets overseas.

Mr MacArthur said: "I think the Eat brand is immensely portable and will function anywhere where people value good service and quality food. We have had expressions of interest from most corners of the world." While he declined to cite a specific country for a new launch and a timeframe, he said: "Watch this space over the next couple of years."

Eat grew sales to £85m last year, up from £68m in 2008, and has not been affected by the slowdown in spending on the high street this year. Mr MacArthur said: "Sales have not dipped. They are significantly higher than they have been over the last couple of years."