Advisers to TDR Capital, the private equity group that controls Altia Holdings, are understood to be marketing the business to London’s financial institutions in preparation for an autumn IPO, M&C has learnt. Merrill Lynch, the investment bank, is understood to be spearheading the process, which is expected to see the operator of Pizza Express, ASK and Zizzi list on the stock market in mid-November. A successful float would make the 500-strong company the biggest publicly-quoted restaurant business in the UK, a casual dining behemoth dwarfing others such as The Restaurant Group and La Tasca. It would also pave the way for other groups said to be considering a public debut, such as Carluccio’s and Tragus Holdings, which operates Cafe Rouge. David Ross, the multimillionaire co-founder of Carphone Warehouse, has been approached to lead the float as chairman. M&C understands that Harvey Smyth will remain at the helm of the Pizza Express division while Adam Kaye will continue to operate the ASK and Zizzi business. The structure will allow both businesses to remain semi-autonomous, reporting into a main group board, mirroring a corporate structure common for restaurant groups in the US. A simplified share structure – put in place to facilitate the IPO – means that TDR currently owns between 70% and 80% of the business while Capricorn Ventures International, which owns the Nando’s restaurant chain, has a minority stake of between 15% and 20%. Both venture capitalists are expected to retain significant equity holdings in the event of a successful flotation, which could value the business at up to £800m. Altia was formed when TDR took the Pizza Express business private in June 2003 for £278m. It then acquired the ASK and Zizzi business for £225m in February 2004. There is speculation that the group will drop the Altia name in favour of “Gondola”, after a vehicle used in an earlier buyout. The group comprises almost 500 restaurants, of which around 300 trade as Pizza Express, 115 as ASK and 75 as Zizzi. Sources suggest this year it will record ebitda (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) in excess of £90m. Like-for-like sales growth at Pizza Express is said to be approaching the 10% mark. The group’s international franchising business has been hived off into a separate company. It is not clear if this will form part of the company in an IPO. Analysts suggest that the company may have to work hard to sell the story to the City. One, who asked not to be named, said: “This is undoubtedly a good business which has undergone a fundamental turnaround but this represents a very sharp return to the stock market. "As with anything like this, the price is key. Fund managers will also want to know what the growth story is and if this business can open 30 restaurants a year through its existing brands. This is not necessarily a straightforward process.”