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Carlyle stakes claim to stricken Gaucho chain

By Mark Kleinman, City editor
The American buyout titan Carlyle has gatecrashed the auction of Gaucho, the stricken restaurant chain, with a cut-price bid to buy it out of administration.
Sky News has learnt that Carlyle Strategic Partners, a special situations fund managed by the firm, lodged an offer for Gaucho earlier this week.
Its bid comes just weeks after it offloaded a substantial debt position it held in Prezzo, another restaurant chain which has been hit by the crisis engulfing Britain's casual dining industry.Carlyle is among a small number of bidders for Gaucho, which crashed into administration last month after its CAU chain amassed millions of pounds of losses after dire trading.The move, which threatened 1300 jobs, has cast a further pall over the crisis-hit British high street.Sources close to the Gaucho administration process said there was some confidence, however, that the eponymous chain would find a buyer, preserving hundreds of roles under a new owner.Carlyle has invested in a string of restaurant operators around the world.It hold a stake in the master franchisee responsible for McDonald's businesses in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau, which collectively comprise nearly 3000 stores, while it is also a backer of Alamar Foods, the master franchise operator of Domino's Pizza across the Middle East and North Africa region.Other parties who had tried to buy Gaucho before it fell into administration, such as the restaurant entrepreneur Hugh Osmond, have not tabled new offers.
Deloitte is handling the administration.Equistone, the company's existing owner, put several proposals to its lenders during recent weeks but is also not participating in the latest bidding, according to a source close to the process.Gaucho had been racing to find new investment to pay a seven-figure tax bill, with Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMRC) now facing the prospect of that demand being unmet.The slump into administration came after CAU saw double-digit declines in like-for-like revenues, with over-expansion, poor site selection and onerous lease arrangements among the factors now contributing to Gaucho's financial difficulties.The crisis at Gaucho has made it just one of several prominent high street brands brought to the brink of collapse, with Toys R Us UK, Maplin and Poundworld all having called in administrators this year.House of Fraser, which employs a total of 17,500 people directly and through concessions, is attempting to secure emergency funding to prevent it following suit.
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Gaucho's rival casual dining chains including Byron, Carluccio's, Cote and Prezzo have all cut significant numbers of jobs this year.Carlyle declined to comment on Friday.
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