Take two: Planet Hollywood is back

The relaunched chain is set to list on Nasdaq
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The Independent Online

Robert Earl, the charismatic founder of Planet Hollywood, will tomorrow make an unlikely return to Wall Street when his restaurant chain begins trading on Nasdaq.

The comeback takes place nine months after the company, which launched with backing from the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to buy time from creditors who were owed $300m. However, with the help of funding from Ong Beng Seng and Prince Al Waleed, the international investors, Mr Earl has succeeded in restructuring Planet Hollywood's debts.

He has chosen to list on Nasdaq, the technology-weighted exchange, because companies that have filed for Chapter 11 may not list on the New York Stock Exchange, Planet Hollywood's former home.

"We decided to default on the debt to get into a dialogue with our lenders," said Mr Earl. "I said I wanted to change things round, and we came up with a deal I was very happy with."

As part of the deal, Planet Hollywood's creditors will secure a 26 per cent stake in the company. The arrangement will allow Mr Earl to proceed with a plan to open a new flagship venue in New York's Times Square.

Mr Earl is promising to use this venue for global radio and television broadcasts. The number of outlets has been streamlined to 60, and later this month Planet Hollywood will also launch its own website.

"The website is a major happening," Mr Earl said. "It will be a definitive site with webcasts and chat rooms."

Mr Earl blamed Planet Hollywood's problems on an excessively aggressive expansion plan which created a company with 87 restaurants in 36 countries. Crucial to the company's success was the recruitment of film stars like Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone to promote the brand. However, several of the new venues turned out to be duds.

"We were the dot coms of our era," said the former Savoy waiter. "It's fair to say I should not have expanded as rapidly as I did. The company needed attention and it wasn't getting it, but the core remains pretty sound."

Mr Earl's talent for publicity is legendary, but he believes Planet Hollywood's fame rebounded on it when the chain got into difficulties.

He said: "Had I known I'd get all this press, I might not have gone down the Chapter 11 road. We had done a very strong job of creating a global consumer brand, so everything we do gets a very large media attention."

As a result, he said, some regular customers have been avoiding Planet Hollywood in the mistaken belief that the restaurants had closed.

Mr Earl's networking skills have been instrumental in raising the funds to relaunch Planet Hollywood. He is an old friend of Ong Beng Seng, the Singaporean investor, and the pair jointly own a luxury island in the Caribbean.

Prince Al Waleed is a more recent acquaintance, but the pair are linked by Gary Davis, one of Planet Hollywood's founders, who left to work for the Saudi investor. He has since returned to the company as executive vice-president.

Planet Hollywood's fortunes coincided with the waxing and then waning box-office appeal of its Hollywood backers. However, although Bruce Willis continues to promote the brand, Mr Earl has recruited a new generation of celebrities from the worlds of music and sport as well as cinema to take Planet Hollywood forward.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp are among those with whom Mr Earl has worked recently. Mr Earl has also courted the friendship of Tony Blair and is a substantial backer of New Labour.

As one of his business partners famously said: "I'll be back."

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