Gondola Holdings, operator of PizzaExpress, ASK and Zizzi restaurants, this morning reported a pre-tax profit of £18.2m in its maiden full-year results as a quoted public company. However, the company is currently subject to a period of due diligence following an approach by Paternoster Acquisitions, a company controlled by Cinven, regarding a possible 415p a share bid, and could soon be taken private again. The headline profit for the year to 2 July came after deducting exceptional costs of £12.6m, and was based on increased restaurant sales, which rose 7% to £384.4m, and like for like sales, which were up 4.1% to £360.5m. Gondola said ebitda rose 6.3% to £89.2m, with ebitda margin maintained at 22.6%. The group has opened 23 new restaurants during the year; three ASK, nine PizzaExpress, nine Zizzi, and two others, and said it has increased its target for new restaurant openings to 25 to 30 in the current year. Two are already opened, and the company is on site at a further five. Looking ahead, Gondola said its strong sales momentum was continuing. Like-for-like sales for the 11 weeks to 17 September 2006 were up 7.1%, with total restaurant sales up 12.2% David Ross, chairman, said: “Gondola’s good results demonstrate the power of our brands, the strength of our business model and the commitment of our people. Our strong cash flow and healthy new site pipeline give us a great opportunity to add to the significant growth already being delivered from the core restaurant estate. “Our strong performance reflects the group’s focus on our ‘restaurant basics strategy’, with food innovation and improved service standards helping to maintain the very positive sales momentum seen in recent years. At the same time, effective management of our cost base has enabled us to maintain profit margins in the face of challenging industry wide cost pressures.” He added: “On 12 September 2006, Paternoster Acquisitions Limited, a company controlled by Cinven, announced that it was considering a possible cash offer for Gondola of 415p per share, which would be reduced on a pence by pence basis for any dividend paid, including the final dividend paid for the period ended 2 July 2006, and that it had agreed irrevocable undertakings with TDR Limited and Capricorn Ventures International LLP in respect of part of their shareholding totalling 25.1% of Gondola’s issued share capital. “The board of Gondola has granted Cinven a limited period of due diligence and will make further announcements as appropriate. The board wishes to remind shareholders that there can be no certainty that any offer will be made.” The company also said noted that: “Recognising the growth of the ‘coffee culture’ in the UK, all three brands are currently developing a new coffee and hot drinks range which will be progressively rolled out across the entire restaurant estate during the next 12 to 18 months.”