Tragus Holdings, the privately-owned casual dining group, yesterday announced a 3.4% increase in like-for-like sales. Reporting full-year figures for the period to 25 May 2008 the group – which runs Bella Italia, Cafe Rouge and Strada – revealed underlying profits (ebitda) of £44m, up 56.2% on the same period last year. Sales climbed 66.7% to £247.8m, driven by new openings and last year’s acquisition of Strada. Although the positive like-for-like sales growth of 3.4% was encouraging, the figure comes against higher growth of 9.7% the year before. Graham Turner, chief executive officer, said: “This has been a year of ongoing growth for our group despite a more difficult economic backdrop and pressure on input costs.” Tragus said its cash return on investments increased by 36.4% at new sites that had opened in the past three years. The company said it had opened 36 new restaurants in the year – including 13 Cafe Rouge, 14 Strada and 6 Bella Italia. Openings included eight restaurants at four UK Center Parcs sites, added Tragus. In 2008 the company also introduced Huxleys – its new British brasserie brand – at Heathrow's T5. The company, which is backed by US private equity group Blackstone, added that it planned to open about 20 restaurants this year. Turner said: “We are pleased to be working with both BAA and Center Parcs to enhance our portfolio. We are looking forward to further organic growth through all three key brands whilst focusing on growing Strada and Cafe Rouge across the UK. “Our diverse portfolio across the UK provides a wide choice of casual dining for the consumer, leaving us well positioned to meet the tightening economic UK outlook.” In a statement Tragus added: “The current year has started reasonably given the pressures on consumer spend. “The generally adverse weather conditions have benefited high street and leisure park locations but hampered alfresco dining.” It also said that it planned to mitigate inflationary cost pressures on food and fuel by “re-tendering contracts and modification of menus.”