Dragon’s Den’s James Caan linked with Little Chef

SERIAL investor James Caan is thought to be eying a bid for the Little Chef chain of roadside restaurants in a move that could safeguard the future of the brand.

Entrepreneur James Caan. Picture: PA

His private equity firm, Hamilton Bradshaw, is understood to be carrying out due diligence on the business, which was put up for sale by turnaround specialist Rcapital in April.

Last month a number of potential buyers emerged including global fast food majors KFC and McDonald’s. Trade buyers are unlikely to want to retain the brand – famous for its Fat Charlie chef mascot.

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Caan – a former judge and investor on BBC 2’s Dragons’ Den show – is said to be interested in saving the brand and expanding it in the UK, possibly securing many of its 1,100 jobs. It is also thought that a successful offer could see the franchise being expanded into the Middle East. Any expansion in the UK is likely to include mobile sites on A-roads as well as fixed restaurants, though it is understood that Caan does not want to buy all the Little Chef outlets and is prepared to work with another bidder.

While it has not been disclosed how much the restaurant chain is worth, it is thought that a bid of between £10 million and £15m would be a starting point.

However, sources close to the sale process said potential offers had already been received in excess of £20m for the whole business.

The chain has undergone a major overhaul, including a menu revamp by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal, since it plunged into administration in 2007 and was bought by London-based Rcapital.

Famous for its filling “Olympic” breakfasts, Little Chef began life as an 11-seat restaurant in Reading, Berkshire, in 1958 and has had a string of owners including private equity group Permira.

It had 234 outlets with some 4,000 staff at the time of its 2007 collapse. The chain now has 83 sites from Devon to Scotland, serving about six million customers a year meals including steak and ale pies, fried breakfasts and baked potatoes.