Queensborough selects Guthrie to build chain

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The Independent Online
Michael Guthrie, who last October sold his Brightreasons restaurants group to Whitbread for pounds 46m, has been appointed to the board of Queensborough Holdings with a brief to move the leisure group into "casual dining". Mr Guthrie, who made his first fortune floating the the Mecca bingo to holiday group, is said to be ready to mount a bid to buy back Brightreasons' Pizza Piazza chain from Whitbread.

Mr Guthrie yesterday refused to comment on speculation about this or that he was behind one of the bids for Granada's Welcome Break chain of motorway service stations, which the television to hotels group is being forced to sell following last year's pounds 3.9bn takeover of Forte. He said he could only confirm that he intended to help Queensborough in building up a restaurant business. However, he emphasised: "One thing's for certain: I am not going into one-offs, I am going to build up a chain."

The stock market reacted well to the appointment, marking Queensborough's shares up 5p to 36p. Up to now the group, which is one of the stock market vehicles of biotech entrepreneur Kevin Leech, has been concentrating on building a caravan site and theme park empire, including Cheddar Gorge. But Stuart Sim, Queensborough's deputy chairman, said yesterday they were not ruling out an approach to Whitbread.

"The plan is the creation of new division within Queensborough, alongside its existing businesses, in that exciting area of leisure dining services, as it is called." They had "several options and we are considering these very carefully at this time", both acquisitions and green field sites, he said.

Queensborough wants Mr Guthrie to spearhead plans to make it a force in high street, rather than city centre, dining. That did not necessarily assume building an enormous chain, Mr Sim suggested. "If you look at people like Burger King, a very dominant player, they have 500 restaurants. Everybody assumes they have thousands of restaurants. If you come to the pricier end of the market, Pizza Express has a relatively small number of restaurants."

Mr Guthrie does not appear to be debarred from other business enterprises by yesterday's appointment. However, Mr Sim said: "He will not be doing anything in that sector which is competitive with Queensborough."