This week’s exclusive Diary includes private equity eyeing Red Hot; Hooters on the attack; opening overseas and Brains stirring it up in the coffee sector; Join the queue It seems that it is not only the food that is being queued for at Red Hot World Buffet (RHWB), the north-based buffet restaurant operator, but also a chance to invest in the fast growing business. Diary hears that a shortlist of four private equity groups are currently vying to acquire or invest in the group, which will open its seventh site in Cardiff early next year. Run by Parmjit Dhaliwal with his wife Helen, the business expects to more than double last year’s revenue of £10m by the end of 2011 with a forecasted turnover, taking into account the three new venues, of around £27m. It expects to make a profit of around £8m by year end. You can see why there’s a queue. Overseas options While the UK’s restaurant expansion scene is being dominated by a few groups, step forward Jamie’s, Gondola, Nando’s and Cote, a number of operators are looking abroad to grow their estates. While such group’s as Carluccio’s, Wagamama and YO! Sushi have been active on the international scene for a number of years, Diary hears that up to three more UK-based chains are considering taking their first steps into the world of overseas franchising and joint ventures this year. Chewing the fat In a week when Denmark became the first country in the world to tax foods that are high in saturated fats and parents were blamed for lunchboxes not containing enough fruit and veg, US restaurant operator and franchisor UFood has stepped in to give a helping hand to consumers seeking up-to-the-minute nutritional advice. It has launched an online nutrition calculator, which allows consumers to select their meal choices, and then generates a complete nutritional profile – including calories, fat, sodium and carbohydrates – for all of the items in the meal. That should slow down those fast food outlet queues. Back on the chain gang Even being named one of the top vegan restaurants in the US and owned by a leading female music star doesn’t mean you are immune from the economic downturn, as Chrissie Hynde, front woman of the Pretenders has found out. She has been forced to close her “The Vegiterranean” establishment, which she launched in 2007, in Ohio. She wrote on her blog this week: “We tried everything we could to keep the restaurant going but unfortunately due to the current economic climate this has not been possible.” Breastaurants go to war The battle of the “breastaurant” chains in the US looks like it is heading to court. Hooters is suing a former executive, Joseph Hummel, claiming he took company documents to help his new employer expand rival business Twin Peaks. Hummel left Hooter’s to join La Cima restaurants, an Atlanta-based company that plans to build 35 Twin Peaks restaurants across the southeast of the US. Hooters alleges that Hummel downloaded more than 500 documents “of sensitive and highly confidential business information” to help La Cima, before and after he left Hooters in July. This one could get dirty. Stirring it up It’s been a week for coffee and especially Costa. Already doing well in its link up with Barracuda, it now has a foothold in Spirit. However, the acquisition of the 15-strong Coffee#1 chain by SA Brains may lead to a reassessment of the Whitbread-owned business’s relationship with the Welsh brewer and pub operator. Brains currently serves Costa Coffee in the majority of its c.240 pubs and even has a store at its terra Nova site in Cardiff Bay. Brains CEO Scott Waddington said: “We will have to have a discussion with Costa and decide what’s best moving forwards.” Coffee perks up Brains Meanwhile, Brains boss Waddington has spoken to Diary about the rationale behind an established regional brew/pub operator making such an acquisition. “It may raise the odd eyebrow but we think it’s appropriate. We are a drinks and hospitality business and at the end of the day, this is about hospitality. We don’t see it as a massive change in direction.” Waddington said the current growth rate of two or three sites a year would be a “minimum” going forward, but he cautioned: “We need to get to know the business better before rushing into [expansion].” He explained that Coffee#1 generates sales of more than £5m per year across its 15 sites, and employs 120 staff. Brains sees it as a good fit geographically, with outlets located across South Wales and south western England, and expansion is likely to be prove easier than for its pubs arm, as Waddington pointed out: “Arguably there’s a greater availability of sites - small and in high streets - and there are no licensing issues because there’s no alcohol.” Makes sense. So could more pub operators be looking to make similar purchases? Diary will keep his ear close to the ground. Murphy’s law sparks media frenzy Media interest in the Karen Murphy foreign satellite football case has been intense, with news crews from across the country (and beyond) keen to speak to the star of the show herself in her Portsmouth pub. Diary hears that one organisation to request a chat was, errr, Sky News. A source close to Ms Murphy said the channel has insisted it would act impartially, despite an obvious direct interest in the case. After a summer of hacking scandals, Diary reckons they’re used to it.