Taste for more bites as Chez Gerard advances

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The Independent Online

Groupe Chez Gerard, the restaurant group, is looking closely at eight possible acquisitions in London. The company currently has seven outlets - three Chez Gerard restaurants plus four others

"When we floated last year we said we were going to double in Central London in three years. We are a little behind, but we have a hit-list of sites," said Neville Abraham, chairman and chief executive, yesterday after announcing a 32 per cent rise in half-year profits to £1.07m.

Besides the profits increase, achieved through higher volume sales and price increases, the company has continued to build-up cash in the bank. At the end of the half year, 25 December, the pile topped £4m which, the company believes, is adequate to finance expansion.

"We are generating cash at the rate of more than £1m a year," said Mr Abraham, who doubts the group would become heavily borrowed if it expanded rapidly. "There is plenty more room to grow the existing business. We're very bullish."

Turnover in the half year rose from £5.04m to £6.5m, of which 70 per cent relates to food and the rest to drinks. Customer volume increased by 10 per cent, and prices were raised by 3 to 3.5 per cent.

The average spend per head at the company's cheaper outlets is about £15, rising to £40 at Scotts, the group's most up-market outlet.

Mr Abraham believes that consumers will continue to exert pressure on prices by demanding value for money.

The 500 shareholders will receive a 0.75p interim dividend per share. There is a "marketing" bonus of two £25 restaurant vouchers for every holder of more than 1,000 shares.

The shares, which were floated at 112.5p a year ago, remained unchanged at 108p yesterday.