Loch Fyne takeover of Petit Blanc puts float on the menu

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The Independent Online

Loch Fyne Restaurants, the oyster bar chain, is taking over the chef Raymond Blanc's four Le Petit Blanc brasseries in a £1.1m rescue deal which will pave the way for the group to float on the stock market next year.

The Le Petit Blanc outlets are a spin-off from Mr Blanc's legendary but separate Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons restaurant at Great Milton, Oxfordshire. But, according to Mark Derry, Loch Fyne's managing director, with only four restaurants under the Le Petit Blanc brand, the business was unable to manage costs and was placed into administration in April.

Mr Blanc will retain a 25 per cent stake in his chain, which will be expanded beyond its present locations of Birmingham, Cheltenham, Manchester and Oxford. He will continue to be in charge of menu development, oversee the food offering and co-operate on the marketing of the business.

Mr Derry said: "[This] acquisition is an important move forward for the Loch Fyne group. We have been seeking a second brand to complement the Loch Fyne business for some time. The Le Petit Blanc opportunity was perfect for us. It's a superb concept and Loch Fyne can bring greater management focus and expertise to develop the business. We are confident we will have it back on track very soon."

Meanwhile, Loch Fyne is expecting to add another three outlets to its 21-strong chain stretching mainly from Bath to London in southern England, but reaching as far north as Nottingham. Mr Derry said: "During a two- or three-year period that has seen the restaurant sector struggle and many high expectations dashed, we have succeeded in opening five or six new and profitable restaurants every year."

They have done so by selling oysters at an affordable £12.45 a dozen, along with bouillabaisse and Islay sausages. In the morning the outlets sell kippers, tea and toast for £5.95.

Loch Fyne Restaurants was spun out five years ago from Loch Fyne Oysters, which runs an oyster and mussel fishery with its own shoreside restaurant by Scotland's largest sea loch. However, the restaurant chain was put into a separate company, with an exclusive supply agreement from the Oysters business, because of fears that if the restaurants failed they could bring down the whole group.

Instead, they have proved a success. Turnover last year was £15m and pre-tax profits £250,000 after taking account of the costs of opening new outlets.