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Business briefing: PizzaExpress opens rescue talks over its £1.2bn debts

Dough or die: Chain is struggling PICTURE: GETTY

PIZZAEXPRESS has arranged talks with creditors over its huge debts as it faces a threat of collapse.

The restaurant chain has hired financial advisers Houlihan Lokey to assist in the negotations to save the business.

Rising costs and a tough trading environment have been blamed for struggles that led to it running up a £1.2billion debt by the end of last year — about £1.8million per restaurant.

About £465million is due to be repaid in 2021 and another £200million in 2022.

Acquired by Chinese private equity firm Hony Capital in 2014, PizzaExpress has more than 600 outlets — mainly in the UK and Ireland — and employs more than 10,000 workers.

It has trialled new menus and redesigned restaurants in an effort to beat the casual dining slowdown that led to the demise of Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant empire. When the group announced its half-year results at the end of August, it hailed a ‘resilient performance’, with sales up 0.5 per cent.

Boss Jinlong Wang said at the time: ‘Intense competition in the casual dining sector encourages innovation and we are constantly seeking ways to increase appeal to new and existing customers.’

The news of the chain’s struggle to survive comes less than a year after its founder, Peter Boizot, died at his home in Peterborough aged 89.

Gripes get shoppers hot under the collar

SHOPS being too hot or cold, overpowering odours and a lack of free wi-fi are among the nation’s biggest shopping gripes, a survey shows.

Broken contactless card machines, the returns counter being difficult to find and the layout of a shop changing also make it onto the list of the biggest bugbears.

Nearly 60 per cent of shoppers said they had walked out of a store empty-handed because the experience it offered was lacklustre, shows the OnePoll survey of 2,000 people for Starcom’s Future Tensions in Retail report.

Amazon aims to Kindle love of reading with kids’ device

More than a book: The new device comes with learning tools

AMAZON has unveiled its first Kindle e-reader designed specifically to be used by children.

The Kindle Kids Edition includes a protective case and a one-year free subscription to a child-friendly version of the company’s digital book store.

There are also features to encourage children to boost their reading skills.

Just for children: The £100 e-reader PICTURES: AMAZON/PA

These include achievement badges to motivate them to finish the next chapter, a simple definition tool and a vocabulary builder which adds looked-up words to a library and creates flashcards of them.

Amazon’s Eric Saarnio said: ‘Kindle Kids Edition makes reading fun.’

The e-reader will go on sale on October 30 for £100.

BUSINESS BITES

■ SALES of Gordon’s Pink Gin are fizzing — up by £63million in the past year to £140.3million. Flavoured gins make up the five fastest-growing spirit brands in the UK, according to analysts Kantar.

■ BACON is losing its sizzle, with supermarket sales slumping by £56.8million in a year. Health-conscious shoppers are rationing their rashers, pushing total sales down 4.7 per cent to £1.2billion.

■ TRAVELODGE will open six new branches in the run-up to Christmas, creating 135 jobs in London, Kent, Edinburgh and Wiltshire. Two of the hotels will have luxury ‘SuperRooms’, and four an on-site restaurant.

■ HOUSE prices rose just 1.1 per cent over the year to September — the weakest annual growth since April 2013, Halifax said. The average value was £232,574 — 0.4 per cent up on August — as the market stayed flat.

■ VODAFONE plans to test open radio technology in the UK. It aims to help connect more rural communities to the internet and enhance coverage in cities, using standardised, lower-cost network equipment.