As well as the new Prezzo Pronto outlets, the business is planning to launch a brunch menu in its restaurants to help make them busier during times of day that are usually quiet.
Brunch could include dishes such as “an Italian take on a breakfast,” as well as Panettone.
Founded in 2000 by restaurateur Jonathan Kaye, Prezzo began its life as a single restaurant that was originally called Jonathan’s, on London’s New Oxford Street. The business floated on London’s junior AIM stock market in 2002 and, over the decade and a half that followed, expanded rapidly.
Prezzo benefited from booming demand for affordable restaurants, and grew rapidly alongside similar Italian chains such as Ask, Zizzi and Bella Italia, as well as other chains like Wagamama. Prezzo was taken off the stock market by private equity group TPG in 2015.
However, oversaturation of the market, shutdowns during the pandemic and soaring inflation and interest rates in recent years have all pummelled the casual dining sector.
In 2018, Prezzo announced plans to close almost 100 sites as part of a restructuring agreement with creditors. That year, both Jamie’s Italian and Byron Burgers were also forced to enter company voluntary arrangements (CVAs).
This was when Challenger, the former head of finance at health club chain David Lloyd, joined the company as finance director, going on to become chief executive in 2022.
“I joined at the wrong time, but the right time to try and fix something,” he said.
Management had become too focused on spreadsheets and powerpoint presentations, rather than what mattered to customers.
“Food is really important. Service is really important. It’s not just an asset,” said Challenger. “I think because they were in a position where cash was difficult, they were looking at everything from a cash perspective.”
Closing so many restaurants was a bruising experience.
“It knocked the reputation, it knocked the like-for-likes [sales], a lot of the team left.”
And then came Covid…
By 2019, the company was growing again, but Covid soon provided more disruption.
“We took the decision that it was the right time to try and reset everything. We looked at all the policies, procedures, manuals, and direction of the business.
“Quite a lot of people left. Because whilst hospitality was closed, lots of other businesses were open. We lost the whole of the finance team, for example, because we were saying ‘can you please take a 30pc pay cut’ and they were saying ‘I’m getting a pay rise to go over here’.”
Cain International, another private equity company, was lined up to buy Prezzo from TPG in December 2020 but the chain collapsed into administration during the winter lockdown. A further 22 restaurants closed and more than 200 jobs were cut.
Cain bought the assets of the business in a pre-pack sale but some of its creditors were left with nothing.