Belgo chief looks at Rank acquisitions

Bar entrepreneur Luke Johnson is believed to be interested in snapping up parts of the troubled Rank empire.Rank is facing a possible break-up of the...

Bar entrepreneur Luke Johnson is believed to be interested in snapping up parts of the troubled Rank empire.

Rank is facing a possible break-up of the group which includes the 75-strong pub chain Tom Cobleigh and 50 Hard Rock Cafés.

It has blamed a downturn in consumer confidence for a 14 per cent fall in third-quarter pre-tax profits to £195m.

However, trade at Tom Cobleigh helped to "significantly improve" the leisure division's operating profits, according to Rank chairman Sir Denys Henderson.

Johnson, who developed the PizzaExpress chain and heads the bar-restaurant group Belgo, has reportedly approached Rank over possible acquisitions.

Its other divisions include Odeon cinemas, Mecca Bingo, Butlin's and Haven holiday centres, and movie and entertainment services.

A spokesman said: "There is a lot of talk about the various divisions of the group but it is only speculation."

Rank has invested £40m a year in Tom Cobleigh since buying it in 1996 for a top price of £96m and would be reluctant to sell it.

The acquisition was handled by Rank's chief executive, Andrew Teare, who resigned last month because of the disappointing results.

With new headquarters in Northampton, Tom Cobleigh has just transferred financial and some other services to Rank's leisure division in Maidenhead, Berkshire.

It is on course to open 20 pubs a year, aiming to reach 100 by next spring. It is looking for sites in the South East and Midlands but also plans to boost its presence in the North West and Scotland.

John Garrett, the former head of Rank's leisure division, is also believed to have made an offer for some of Rank's assets.

Both Johnson and Garrett were unavailable for comment.

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