A further 42 per cent is tied up in share options for senior management, the majority of which are thought to be in Mr Ingram Hill's hands. Sources said Mr Ingram Hill owned 60 per cent of the company, which is likely to be worth pounds 150m.
Another 400 of the group's employees, who are members of its employee share ownership plan (Esop), would share a further pounds 7.5m between them. Roadchef's employees control a further 5 per cent of the shares through the Esop, which was set up in 1987 and was the first such scheme to be established by a British company.
Roadchef yesterday announced that it was preparing to send details on the company to a wide range of interested buyers. The firm's interest in a trade sale is believed to have been raised by the high price that Granada received for Welcome Break, the service station chain it sold following its takeover of Forte. Investcorp, the Bahrain-based investment group, last year shocked the City with its winning pounds 476m bid for Welcome Break.
If it sells for similar valuations as Welcome Break, Roadchef could fetch a price of pounds 150m. In 1996, the last year for which figures are available, the company made an operating profit of pounds 6.88m on turnover of pounds 113m.
Roadchef is likely to attract interest from a string of buyers. Asda, the supermarkets chain, and transport group National Express each submitted bids for Welcome Break, as did a string of venture capital groups.
Investcorp is also expected to show an interest, and industry sources do not rule out Granada as a potential bidder. Both these firms would face competition hurdles.