SFI, the troubled owner of Slug and Lettuce, has signalled its potential sale with the issue of an information pack aimed at prospective bidders.
Executive chairman Stuart Lawson admitted that: "An information memorandum has been put together and issued under confidentiality to relevant parties."
Within two days of its release, news of the information pack, which is understood to provide up-to-date details of SFI's estate and its financial standing, had leaked and was soon creating a buzz in the City.
Told of the news, one senior analyst suggested it was likely that the group would by split, with prospective takers coming both from among the new privately-financed pubcos and larger managed operators.
The SFI Group includes Slug & Lettuce, Bar Med and Litten Tree among its brands. The Slug & Lettuce brand has turned over a profit, up 6 per cent to June last year, but sales at both the Litten Tree and Bar Med concepts continued to fall, down 2 per cent.
Overall performance was 2 per cent up for the group over the financial year ending May 2004, though the period through Christmas was thought to be disappointing.
"In January the board appointed advisors to work on a strategic plan of action for the future and this process is still in its early stages," he added. "But I would like some clarity before the end of April and so we have set a timetable and will be working back from there."
Kroll Corporate Finance was called in by the board in January to help decide whether SFI should be sold or seek another refinancing package to bolster its recovery.
Mr Lawson was at pains to stress that he was also looking at continuing the implementation of his business plan for the next three years and no sale had yet been decided. However, he did admit that the decision to sell or otherwise was largely in the hands of SFI's major stakeholders.
These include a number of investment companies which took a stake in the business when SFI completed its restructuring in May 2004. Despite Mr Lawson's willingness to push the business forward - and he has significantly slowed its decline - it is highly probable that a decision has already been taken to sell between SFI's stakeholders and Kroll.