Rank sells restaurants for 20m pounds

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RANK Organisation is to sell its Prima Pasta and Pizza Piazza restaurant chains for pounds 20m, writes Chris Blackhurst.

The buyer is understood to be Brightreasons, a private company controlled by Michael Guthrie, the former chairman of Mecca. He will add the 40 restaurants to Brightreasons' existing Pizzaland and Bella Pasta chains and the 11 motorway service stations he bought from Rank for pounds 90m in 1991.

The deal, which will make Brightreasons the market leader in the Italian restaurant sector, is thought to be a precursor to a public flotation either later this year or next.

Neither Rank nor Mr Guthrie would comment on the sale. However, a source close to Brightreasons said the chains would make 'a natural fit' with Pizzaland and Bella Pasta.

Jane Anscombe, an analyst at BZW, said there was a 'a general feeling that Rank has got more businesses than some investors would like it to have'. The restaurants were in that category. Rank has already sold its screen advertising business and is trying to sell its hotels. But on Friday it moved to scotch reports that Rank Films, which includes the Odeon cinemas and Pinewood studios, was on the block.

Annual results from the group this week are likely to reveal a slight drop in profits for the year to the end of October, from pounds 250m to pounds 245m. The group has been struggling to bring down debts from when it bought Mecca, for pounds 989m, in 1990. Despite asset sales, debts are still expected to be pounds 900m.