Leon sold to Asda buying Isaa brothers in £100M deal

Leon's restaurant

Leon has been sold for an estimated £100 million to the billionaire brothers who are buying Asda.

EG Group, Mohsin and Zuber Issa’s petrol forecourt and convenience retail business, said that it planned to step up the pace of expansion of the self-styled “naturally fast food” chain by opening about 20 Leon outlets a year, including several drive-throughs.

The sale of Leon, first reported by The Mail on Sunday, will crystallise big gains for Spice Private Equity and Active Partners, the private equity firms that together own 70 per cent of the company.

Leon was launched in 2004 by Henry Dimbleby, a food adviser to Boris Johnson and former Bain & Co consultant, in partnership with John Vincent, its chief executive, and Allegra McEvedy, the chef.

Dimbleby, who stepped down from the board of Leon in 2017, and Vincent were appointed MBE in 2015 for services to school food. Last year Vincent teamed up with Damian Lewis, Helen McCrory and Matt Lucas, the actors, to launch Feed NHS, a not-for-profit campaign to feed NHS staff.

Leon has 71 restaurants, of which 42 are company-owned sites in Britain, with a strong presence in London. It also has 29 franchised sites, mainly in airports and stations in the UK and the Netherlands.

Vincent said it was “in some ways a sad day” to be parting ways with the company, although the pain will be softened by the £13 million he collects from the sale of his 15 per cent stake.

Dimbleby and McEvedy are among a group of about 40 smaller shareholders cashing in their chips to the collective tune of about £13 million. The investors, some of whom have only a few shares, include Dimbleby’s parents, the broadcaster David Dimbleby and the cookery writer Josceline Dimbleby.

Although Leon was profitable up until the pandemic, it has since found the going tough, closing its four American restaurants. In December it began a company voluntary arrangement to cut its rent bill after a 70 per cent fall in sales in the second lockdown.

EG Group, which is backed by TDR Capital, the private equity group, was founded in 2001 by the Issa brothers and is chaired by Lord Rose of Monewden, the Ocado chairman. It has more than 6,000 sites in Europe, the United States and Australia. This week it will learn whether its takeover of Asda has been cleared by the Competition and Markets Authority.