Jitu Virmani Buys Hardrock Cafe’s India Operator

Billionaire property developer Jitu Virwani, promoter of the country’s largest business parks Embassy Group, has acquired controlling interest in JSM Corp, a Mumbai-based F&B company that operates Hard Rock Cafe, Panda Express, California Pizza Kitchen and Shiro among others. Virwani’s investment is seen as a bail-out after the company’s efforts to raise fresh capital failed, pushing it into distress zone.

Virwani partnered with one of JSM’s founders Sanjay Mahtani to snap up shares held by Premji Invest, an investment vehicle of Wipro chairman Azim Premji, and other exiting investors including co-founder Jay Singh. Virwani and Mahtani together now hold 95% in the company leaving the rest with a few small investors. Virwani’s personal investment gives him an individual 62% holding.

Jitu Virwani said “I have acquired slightly over 60% stake in the company, buying shares from Premji Invest and one of the co-founders. Company suffered from bulging corporate expenses and aggressive expansion after attracting private equity investments. “I see big opportunity to expand Panda Express (a US headquartered popular Chinese kitchen with revenue topping $2 billion) across malls, business parks, college campuses in India. I am not planning anything adventurous on the rest of the businesses”.

Premji Invest, which had pumped in $25 million for an initial 22% five years ago, is said to have taken a huge write-off as “aggressive expansion of super-sized stores” in a highly competitive fine-dining industry proved to be the undoing. JSM also went on a “brand grab” as it signed up multiple international brands even as the consumer sentiments remained sluggish. Premji’s investment had happened at a post money valuation of around Rs 500 crore, while the latest sale was struck at possibly one-fourth of that figure.

JSM has annualized revenue of about Rs 120 crore but has seen several large format outlets of Hard Rock, California Pizza Kitchen and Shiro struggle in recent past. This prompted the company to re-size the outlets even as it prepared to launch Panda Express in the country. The company operates other F&B brands like frozen dessert chain Pinkberry, Big Kahuna, Ginger Tiger and Asilo in Mumbai.

Virwani’s Embassy Group operates large technology business parks and has an equal joint venture with Blackstone Group, which manages rental income earning office space of more than 30 million sqft.

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