Gondola, the operator of the Pizza Express, Zizzi, Ask and Byron chains, has appointed BNP Paribas, the European banking and financial group, to look at its options for refinancing its £550m debt, which has sparked speculation that it could lead to a sale of the group or some of its brands. According to Sky News, Gondola has hired BNP Paribas to change the terms of £550m of senior debt taken on when the company was acquired by Cinven, the private equity group, for £900m in late 2006. The report said that a sale of the company, which operates c.650 sites, was likely to be considered next year although it might not take place until 2013. Gondola has spent most of the last 18 months upgrading the majority of its estate but it still has an impressive roll out strategy, as highlighted by the fact that it is set to open 40 sites this year, a record for the group. It currently operates close to 400 sites under its Pizza Express chain in the UK and is thought to be looking abroad to add a bit of “sizzle” to any subsequent deal for the brand. As revealed by M&C Report earlier this year plans are afoot for a proper launch of Pizza Express in India, while there are also whispers of a return to the US market for the pizza brand. It has also said it believes there is scope to add a further 200 sites under the brand in the UK. Another option for the group, which is led by Harvey Smyth, would be the sale of its fast-growing and hugely popular burger concept, Byron, although the current 16-strong London-based chain has yet to be exposed to regional markets. Last November, Gondola reported a 6.5% increase in underlying earnings to £122.4m for its most recent financial year, with full year sales up by 7% to £545m. However, the company made a pre-tax loss of £45.3m, following interest charges on its debts of £96m.