Ask Italian and Zizzi operator Azzurri Group is exploring a sale of the company, Sky News reports.

Advisers to Azzurri, which is owned by the private equity firm Bridgepoint, have begun contacting prospective bidders for the business in recent days.

The process is at an early stage, and is understood to be only one of the options that Bridgepoint is considering for the future of the company, which employs about 6,000 people.

Azzurri, which is led by Steve Holmes, also owns the Coco di Mama chain, and in total traded from roughly 300 restaurants prior to the outbreak of coronavirus.

Sources said that KPMG, which is advising Azzurri, was inviting offers for part or all of the business, which was created in 2015 when Bridgepoint paid £250m for the ASK and Zizzi chains.

In an interview with MCA published two weeks ago, Steve Holmes said Azzurri had sought advice from KPMG to ensure it was in in a good position to reopen successfully.

He said: “At the moment there are still many unanswered questions, we just need to make sure we’re exploring everything that’s available so when we do reopen we’re in the best possible shape, and to set the business up for long term success. And clearly in that scenario you want to work with advisors to make sure you’re exploring everything that’s available, and the process is still ongoing.”

He added: “We’re working alongside KPMG to consider everything available to us to make sure that we can open in the best possible shape and we will see how that evolves.”