The Gondola Group ('Gondola'), the market leader in the UK casual dining sector, and Hony Capital, a leading private equity firm in China, today announce that they have reached agreement on the sale of PizzaExpressfor a consideration of approximately £900 million. This transaction is the largest in the European casual dining industry in the past five years.

PizzaExpress is the market-leading casual dining brand in the UK and has strong positions in 13 international markets. It currently operates 436 sites in the UK and 68 sites internationally, with 22 of these sites in China (12 in Hong Kong, 9 in Shanghai, and 1 in Beijing).

Since the business was taken private seven years ago, Gondola has added over 130 PizzaExpress restaurants in the UK and created around 2,500 jobs. Gondola re-acquired the PizzaExpress international brand rights in 2010 and PizzaExpress has subsequently developed strong platforms in a number of regions from which to accelerate its expansion. Over the last seven years, EBITDA has grown through the recession from c£60m to c£90m. Under Gondola's ownership, PizzaExpress has built a strong management team, led by Richard Hodgson, which will remain with the business.

Hony Capital is a pioneering buyout fund in China and has strong expertise incross-border investments. Leveraging its domestic and international expertise, Hony Capital will work together with the PizzaExpress management team to drive continued growth both in the UK and internationally, with a particular focus on expansion in China.

The proposed sale of PizzaExpress follows the sale of Byron Hamburgers to Hutton Collins for £100 million, announced in October 2013.

John Zhao, Chief Executive of Hony Capital, commented:

'Hony Capital is delighted to have acquired PizzaExpress, a well-established and exciting brand. We have built a strong track record in helping Chinese enterprises to expand globally. With PizzaExpress, we have the opportunity to leverage our local expertise to accelerate its growth in the Chinese market, as well as continue to drive its business forward in the UK.'

Harvey Smyth, Chief Executive of The Gondola Group, commented:
'PizzaExpress is an iconic brand in the UK restaurant sector with a strong and growing international presence. This has been reflected in the considerable interest we received in buying the business and in today's transaction with Hony. PizzaExpress is stronger than ever and great credit for this goes to the teams there, who leave Gondola with our thanks and best wishes for the future.'

Richard Hodgson, Chief Executive of PizzaExpress,added:
'Today's acquisition of PizzaExpress by Hony is a very positive development at an exciting time for the business. Asia is a key part of our future growth strategy and Hony's expertise in this region will be invaluable. We are looking forward to working with them on this as well as our ambitious UK growth plans.'